Stan Lee & Jack Kirby interviewed by Mike Hodel on WBAI FM, NYC
The audio of this interview is courtesy of Stan Lee Papers, Box 70, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Transcribed by the Kirby Museum.
Hodel: Who goes around saving maidens, preventing banks from being robbed and committing other deeds of that type under an alter ego for the name Peter Parker. How about Tony Stark? Would you believe Reed Richards? Stan Lee? Jack Kirby?
Well, except for the last two, they’re all superheroes and they belong in Marvel Comics and they are written and drawn by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And Mr. Lee and Mr. Kirby are gonna be asked some questions about their superheroes. And I guess the first one would be addressed to Stan Lee and it’s the title of this program.
Stan, will success spoil Spider-man?
Lee: (laughs) Oh, I don’t think anything could spoil old Spidey, as we lovingly call him.
I just have to correct one thing you said though. You said that, um, except for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the others are superheros. We like to think of (laughs) ourselves as superheros too. Might add also, there are other artists and other writers who do some of the other books too. Jack and I don’t do them all. Although, we- we do the Fantastic Four and Thor.
And, uh, Spider-man has been a success since he started and, uh, luckily I don’t think he’s been spoiled yet so we just have our fingers crossed.
Hodel: I ran across Marvel Comic Books about six or eight months ago and one of the things that drew me to Marvel Comic Books, and Spider-man in particular, is a panel which showed Spider-man swooping down on some bank robbers and they say, “Whoops. Here comes Spider-man.” And he replies, “Who were you expecting? Vice President Humphrey?” Now this is not a line you expect to find in a comic book and it sort of symbolizes your whole approach to the field, which is offbeat and interesting. Was it your idea, Stan, or, well, where did it come from?
Lee: Well, uh, I guess, in that sense it was my idea, since I write the dialogue.
Uh. In a nutshell, our theory is, although maybe I shouldn’t, uh, give the theory in a nutshell, ’cause then I don’t know what we’ll talk about for the rest of the half hour. At any rate, in a nutshell, our theory is that, um, there’s no reason why a comic magazine couldn’t be as realistic and as well written and drawn as any other type of, uh, literature.
We try to write these things so that characters speak the way a character would speak in a well-written movie, well-produced television show. And, um, I think that’s what makes our books seem unique to a person who first picks them up. Nobody expects, as you say, that sort of thing in a comic book, but that’s a shame because why shouldn’t someone expect reasonable and realistic dialogue in a comic book? Why do people feel that comic books have to be badly written, you see? And we’re trying to, um, engage in a one-company crusade to see to it that they’re not badly written.
Hodel: Jack, you drew and invented, if I’m not mistaken, Captain America, one of the earliest superheros, who’s now plying his trade in Marvel Comics. How did Captain America come to be and does he have any particular, oh, relationship to the, to your other superheros?
Kirby: Well, yes, Captain America, like all the characters come to be because it- because of the fact that there is a need for them. Somebody needed Captain America, just as the public needed Superman. When Superman came on the scene, the public was ready for him and they took him. And so, from Superman, uh, who didn’t exactly satiate the public’s need for the superhero, um, uh, soon spawned the rest of them. The rest of them all came from Superman and they all had various names and various backgrounds and, uh- uh, they embraced various creeds.
And Captain America came from the need for a patriotic character because the times at that time were in a patriotic stir. The war was coming on and, uh, to coin a cliché, the war clouds were gathering and the drums were beginning to beat and, uh, the American flag was beginning to show on the movie screens. And so Captain America had to come into existence and it was just my good fortune to, uh- uh, be there at the time when we were asked to create, uh, superheros for the magazines that were coming into creation then, for the new magazines.
Hodel: Well, Captain America fought valiantly against the Axis from 1940 until after the war, then what happened? When did he, uh, die off or go into hiding until he was revived by Marvel Comics?
Kirby: Well, I- I believe that Captain America went into hiding like all ex-soldiers. I know I went into hiding. I didn’t show my face for quite a few years. In fact, I went out to Long Island with my wife and I got happily lost there and never found my way back to Manhattan.
And so, uh, feeling that I- I, myself and Captain America because of the fact that his feelings are mine when the drawings- when- when the drawings are created and, uh, because his reactions are my reactions to this specific situations in the story, uh, well, I have no compunction to say that we both were hiding for all these years and, uh- uh, were quite happy about it.
Hodel: Well, now that Captain America is back in the fight, has there been any talk about sending him to Vietnam? They could certainly use him.
Kirby: Well, that’s Stan Lee’s department and, uh, he can answer that. The editor always has the last word on that.
Lee: Well, the Secretary of Defense and myself just haven’t yet made up our mind. (laughs). Um. I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll be sending him to Vietnam really because, um, it’s a funny thing. We treat these characters sort of tongue and cheek and we get a lot of laughs out of them. We have a lot of fun with them. I somehow don’t know if it’s in really in good taste to take something as serious as the situation in Vietnam and, uh, put a character like Captain America … We- we would have to start treating him differently and take the whole thing very seriously, which we’re not prepared to do.
The time that Jack talks about, when Captain America was first created, the books were written a little bit differently then. There was really, there wasn’t this type of subtle humor. The stories were very serious and at that time, I think it was okay to have Captain America fighting the Nazis and so forth, ’cause they were done very seriously. But right now, I- I don’t think I’d feel right, uh, writing the stories about Vietnam.
Hodel: All these superheroes are, not all of them, but many of them have, uh, hangups. You have one superhero who is blind, uh, named Daredevil, otherwise known as Matt Murdock. You have Spider-man, Peter Parker, who is perhaps the most guilt-ridden teenager I have ever run across. And there are, uh, many others. How did you decide that these were gonna be something more than superheros, that they were gonna have problems of their own?
Lee: Well, it was just the idea of trying to make them realistic, as we mentioned before, trying to write them a little bit better. It seems to me that the best type of story is the type of story a reader can relate to. The average superhero published by some of the other companies, you can’t really relate to them because they’re living in a vacuum. They just have a super power. They can fly through the air or whatever and that’s it, but other than that, they are two dimensional.
Now in order to make a person three dimensional, he has to have a family life, he has to have personal problems and so forth. The thing, I’ve said this so often that it’s almost becoming a cliché with me, but what we try to do is we know that these superhero stories are really fairy tales. They are fairy tales for older people. We think of them that way. We don’t really write them for young kids. And, uh, what we ask the reader to do, and hope he will do, is accept the basic premise, the basic fairy-tale quality, such as the fact that Spider-man does have the proportionate strength of a spider, if a spider were his size and that Spider-man does have the ability to cling to walls, which obviously nobody does.
However, once we accept that basic premise, that fairy-tale quality, we try to make everything else very realistic. The idea being, what would a real person do? How would he react? How would his life be if he had the strength, proportionate strength of a spider and could cling to walls? Wouldn’t he still have sinus trouble? Possibly trouble with girls? A- a- a sick relative that he was worried about? Have to worry about his school marks and so forth?
So once we get beyond the fairy-tale quality, we try to write realistic stories. We try to have the character speaking in a realistic way. To me, I- I feel that this gives it a great deal of interest. You have the combination of the fantasy, mixed with the most realistic story you can get and, uh … Well, we found sort of a winning combination.
Kirby: Well, a prize fighter can win the championship of the world and go home and be very inadequate at home, uh, inadequate enough and have a lot of family trouble.
Hodel: Which may be one reason for his fighting.
Lee: (laughs) Very good.
Hodel: You’ve also created something unique in comic books that I know of. You’ve come up with an anti-hero. A physicist by the name of Bruce Banner, who periodically becomes the Hulk and, uh, oh, he destroys things a lot, as somebody said to me. Uh. What made you think that an anti-hero, who goes around tearing down bridges and buildings and things like that, uh, could sell comic books?
Lee: Gee I- I, actually, it … I think we knew when we started that he could sell comic books better than anybody. We’ve always found … I don’t think it’s that we’re this brilliant. Don’t be … We’ve had so much experience, that we’d have to be stupid not to have learned by all these years of experience and we get a lot of fan mail and you learn a lot by what the readers write. And we learned the villains are usually at least as popular as the heroes are. They have a great appeal.
Kirby: Well, what makes you think that a Boris Karloff can’t be a great star in movies? It’s the same analogy I imagine.
And what happens is, after a while, we have a lot of trouble by trying to humanize our heroes and giving them faults and failings, we do the same with our villains. We try to give them understandable qualities and reasons why they are the way they are. We’ve even had villains who reformed and became heroes. One standing joke among our readers and among the artists and writers who work for us, our so-called bullpen, is after a while, we don’t know who the heroes and who the villains are. There’s such a fine line, you see, dividing them.
Well, when we started with the Hulk, we just knew he had to be popular because he had everything in his favor. It had the Jekyll and Hyde format. It had the idea of a monster who was sympathetic, the way Frankenstein really had been in the first movie. He wasn’t bad, Frankenstein’s monster, that is, he wasn’t bad, he was misunderstood. All he wanted to do was be left alone.
I would have bet my bottom dollar the Hulk would have to be well received and he was and he still is one of our most popular characters, probably the most popular one with our college readers, college-age readers.
Hodel: That’s what I was gonna ask. You say your books are aimed not at children, but at, uh, young people and adults. Is there anyway that you can check for magazine sales and so forth as to, uh, what your readership is?
Lee: No. Our only check really is through the mail, which is a very good check because we get thousands of letters a week. I would guess we get almost as much mail as the Beatles and we don’t even sing.
And, uh, by reading all this mail, a monumental task in itself, we’ve learned a lot about who our readers are and what they like and dislike. And, uh, almost half of our mail is from college students and college-aged people.
Hodel: What do they like and what do they not like?
Lee: Just what you’d think they’d like. They like whatever we do that seems to be original, unexpected. They like the, uh, degree of satire we put into the books. They are mad for the quality of artwork, which I think is far superior than has ever been presented in any other comics over the years. They like the, uh, realism, which, uh, it’s always a difficult thing to say because somebody who isn’t familiar with the books would think this guy must be, must have flipped. He’s talking about comic books and he’s talking about realism, but the readers know what we mean. And, um, they like whatever quality they find: good writing, good drawing, good editing, and sincerity. I think they- they can detect a note of sincerity, even though the stories have some humor, quite a bit of humor to them, there is an underlying sincerity. We take them seriously and I think the readers are aware of this.
Hodel: Did you also innovate the letters page, which, uh, it- it- it adds to your stories and frequently I sometimes find in the blurbs you run, that, uh, you advance the stories by means of these letter pages?
Lee: The letters pages are our most successful, one of our most successful devices. It also establishes a rapport, uh, between ourselves and the readers and, uh, I’m happy to say most of our readers feel that we’re all friends. When they write a letter, they don’t say dear editor, they say dear Stan and Jack. Dear so and so. They call us by name and we give ourselves nicknames. We started this as a gag and they’ve caught on. Uh. The fellow here at my right isn’t just Jack Kirby, he’s “Jolly Jack” or-
Kirby: And I’ll get you for it.
Lee: (laughs) … or Jack “King” Kirby.
Lee: And I’m “Smiling Stan.” And, uh, this is kinda cute too because, as- as I mentioned to you earlier, I think before we were on the air, we sort of think of the whole thing as one big advertising campaign with slogans and mottos and catch phrases and things that the reader can identify with. And besides just presenting stories, we try to make the reader think he’s part of an in group. A fact that we’ve discussed before, we’re always a little worried about being too successful, where, uh, the readers will feel oh gosh, now everybody’s got on to it. We have to find something new.
Hodel: Is there a real Irving Forbush?
Lee: Oh, I don’t think that it would be right for me to answer that.
Lee: When we’re off the air, I might hint at it. He’s real in our imagination, I’ll put it that way. (laughs).
Hodel: Well, I think you’ve also pioneered the use of mythological superheroes. I’m talking about Thor, which you two-
Hodel: … come up with every month.
Lee: Well, you’ve got the right guy here ’cause I would say that Jack is the greatest mythological creator in the world. Well, we- we kicked Thor around and we came out with him. And I thought he would just be another book. And I think that Jack has turned him into one of the greatest, uh, fictional characters there are.
In fact, I should let Jack say this, but just on the chance that he won’t. He was … Somebody was asking him how he gets his authenticity in the costumes and everything. And I think a priceless answer Jack said was, “They’re not authentic. If they were authentic, they wouldn’t be authentic enough.” But he draws them the way they should be, not the way they were.
Hodel: Did you do a lot of homework on that, a lot of, uh, Norse myths and so forth?
Kirby: Well, uh- uh, not homework in the sense that I- I went home one night and I really concentrated on it. All through the years, certainly I’ve had uh- uh, a kind of affection for any mythological type of character and, uh, my conception of what they should look like and, uh, here Stan gave me the opportunity to draw one and I wasn’t gonna draw back from really letting myself go, so I did. And, uh, like, uh- uh, the world became a stage for me there and, uh, I had a costume department that really went to work. And, uh, I gave the Norse, uh, characters twists that they never had in anybody’s imagination.
Kirby: And, uh, somehow it- it turned out to be a lot of fun and I- I really enjoyed doing it.
Hodel: Isn’t it rather tough to come up with villains that, uh, are a suitable match for a Norse god?
Kirby: Well, not if they’re Norse gods.
Hodel: Well, you’ve also dragged in some Greeks. I remember one epic battle with Hercules.
Kirby: Well, Hercules had, uh, Olympian powers, which certainly are, uh, considered, uh, on an equal basis with old powers of the Norse gods and, uh, therefore we, uh, we felt that, uh, they were an equal match for each other, and by rights, they should contend with each other.
Lee: These college kids, who are so hooked on these stories, and they like Thor also, and not long ago I was speaking at Princeton, and one of the questions that I was asked was, “How do we reconcile the idea of Norse gods and Greek gods in the same story?” Now, obviously, Zeus and Odin are really the same god, but, uh, in different mythologies. And it occurred to us, what we do is we create our own mythology and we create our own universes and in our minds, there is an Olympus and there is an Asgard and Odin is the boss of his little god- god-dom and Olympus is the chief of his and we may someday bring in the Roman gods or whoever else.
And we figure that we don’t have, as Jack said, we don’t have to be that accurate because we think we can do better. After all, mythology is mythology and who’s to say we can’t make up our own myths, which is what we’re doing, just basing them on other past ones and having a heck of a good time doing it.
Hodel: Well, you have to draw your villains to scale. You can’t give Spider-man and, uh, Thor the same villain to fight. You, there has to sort of a class A, B, and C for villains. And, uh, so it must be a bid of a hard- hardship to come up with a villain who can be, uh, satisfactorily, uh, well give satisfactory battles-
Hodel: … to Thor.
Kirby: Yes. Well, I found out that villains seem to have their limits to because I came up with a few on a- on a galactic scale and-
Kirby: … and soon reversed my direction. (laughs)
Lee: The trouble with Jack is he’s too darned imaginative and he- he gets himself absolutely trapped. The last thing he did and finally we both said we have to stop and retrench a little, is he had Thor fighting a whole planet. Jack came up with an idea, a fella named Ego, who’s a living planet in … What was he, a bio, instead of a universe?
Kirby: Yes. He lived in a- a bio-verse. And, uh-
Lee: Which I’m sure we’re all very familiar with.
Kirby: Yes, and- and-(laughs)
Hodel: Just the other side of the, uh, negative universe, right?
Kirby: Yes. And- and- and just not presenting the reader with a- with a living planet. We- we- we had, it had to be cause and effect, so we made him into a multiple virus, which we felt (laughs) could be accepted and that maybe not on a friendly basis-
Kirby: … but certainly on a realistic basis and that was our jumping off point. And, uh, we went on from there and he was acceptable to the reader, uh, due to the fact that he could contend with Thor on Thor’s level.
Lee: He was acceptable due to the fact that Jack drew him so well, but the problem was where do we go from there. After you fought a living planet, you can’t fight a litter bug. So, uh, we- we do have problems in that respect.
Now we have to, we’re trying to humanize these characters again a little bit, because they’ve been too far out, you know, there. We had him fight the whole troll empire in Asgard. And he fought … Well, we, in the Fantastic Four, for example, we had a fella name Galactus, who’s practically god. I mean, he could do anything and he, uh … We- we realized after Galactus, that we better take it a little bit easy with these villains too.
In fact, a lot of readers would write in and they say, “Well, where do you go from here? Well, who’s he gonna fight next after that?”
Kirby: Not only that, we felt it was disrespectful to Galactus to even destroy him in any manner, so we had to just respectfully find a way for him to leave and then go on to another adventure, because we couldn’t even touch him, I believe. And, uh, there- there might have been an outcry if we had.
Lee: (laughs) One other thing I think that we’ve innovated that has been pretty successful, is overlapping characters and books. For example, this Galactus, he first appeared in the Fantastic Four. Now this is interesting to me, the Fantastic Four books that he appeared in were three in number, three consecutive issues. We have continued stories. In fact, they are, all our books are one big continued story. And in the mail we received from so many college kids, they now refer to those books, they’ll say, “By the way, regarding your Gallacks- your Galactus trilogy” … and the darned thing, you know, they’re referring to this as though it’s the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, which I love. This is wonderful. It means we’re- we’re really reaching them.
At any rate, he appeared in the Fantastic Four and then he went off to another universe and that was the end of Galactus, but we didn’t leave him there. In Thor, which is another publication of ours and has no relationship to the Fantastic Four except that we publish them both, what we did was, when Thor was finishing of this living planet that he had battled, on his way back to Earth, he passed Galactus, who was wandering around in the sky up there, and Galactus was on his way to meet the fellow, Ego, who was the living planet and so forth, and we just kind of left it there. And someday when we run out of plots, we’ll have the fight between Galactus and Ego. But we very often do that ’cause we feel it gives a feeling of realism also.
If we have a villain who fought the Fantastic Four or Spider-man or Daredevil or the X-Men or Captain America or whomever, why shouldn’t he eventually meet another one of our heroes? Or why shouldn’t our heroes meet as they often do and guest star in each other’s book? Because according to the gospel as preached by Marvel, they all live in the same world, you see?
Kirby: I would advise any astronomer listening to what we have to say here to take another good hard look at the Quasars-
Kirby: … because we think that one of them is Galactus.
Lee: And we dare them to disprove it.
Hodel: If anyone wants to disprove it, please call WBAI and we’ll set up a program.
I wanted to talk about your guest-starring villains and superheroes in, uh, in each other’s books. Do you find that this, well, besides giving continuity and realism, do you think that, uh, to save you the trouble of creating more villains?
Lee: Oh, it certainly is helpful because once, it’s like a- a repertory theater, where you got your actors, and you know what they can do, and you can use them as- as needed.
Once we have our cast of characters, whether heroes or villains or both, it makes it easier for us to base stories. If we’re sitting around dreaming up a plot, Jack might say to me, gee, you know, we haven’t used the Silver Surfer for awhile. How would it be if he was doing this, that, or the other. Or I might remember, gee, what about Galactus or- or whoever, so it does make it easier.
But that isn’t the reason we do it, we do it because again, it seems to me that you enjoy things that you’re familiar with and the readers eventually get to know these characters and they’re interested in these characters and why just get rid of them. It’s very, it takes months to build up that interest in a new character.
So what we do is, while we’re developing a new character, we’ll still have old ones reappearing to give a- a- a thread of continuity here and there. In fact, in the Fantastic Four, we have absolutely gotten ourselves into such a hole, that I don’t know if we’re ever gonna get … We have so many continuing characters that Peyton Place seems simple next to our situation.
Hodel: I walked into the Fantastic Four line about three or four months ago and every couple of pages you drop one of the Fantastic Four, The Human Torch, Johnny Storm, uh, he will appear for a moment and then he will go off someplace, looking for the Inhumans, for a- for a girl. And, uh, I’m very curious to know where the Inhumans first popped up? It looks as if you, uh, had an idea for a hero there in Black Bolt, who’s the leader of the Inhumans, I found out in I think one of the Avenger books, of all places.
Hodel: And, uh, they sort of weave in and out over a period of, well, must be at least a year now. And, uh, that must-
Lee: These things aren’t always planned. They grow.
Now what happened was, I think Jack, the first Inhuman that we brought in was Gorgon, wasn’t it? Didn’t we have a story, the gentleman’s name was Gorgon?
Lee: And he was a fella who (laughs) he looked a little like a centaur or something. He could kick his foot very hard and he had great power. He could shatter a mountain by kicking his foot. He started out as a villain. We liked him so much, I should say Jack liked him so much, that he kept using him. We figured he has to come from somewhere. We decided, let him come from some strange land over in Europe, where there are a whole group of people like him. And well, what else could you call them except the Inhumans. Then Jack had to create a whole bunch of Inhumans and I think he did a great job. All these characters are really very imaginative.
When it came to doing the leader, we decided, well, there was no need for them all to be villainous. And you’re right, I think we did have in mind that Black Bolt would eventually be a heroic type.
And again, we always try to give a character a hangup so his hangup is he doesn’t speak. Now, I’m quite sure he’s the first non-speaking superhero or supervillain, we don’t know quite yet in history.
But anyway, they evolved. I mean, we didn’t sit down one day and say let’s do a group of Inhumans and these are their names and we’ll present them in this fashion, as with everything we do. We just sort of stumble into them as we go along.
I might add something that you may not be aware of, we don’t do the stories the way most other outfits do. We kick around a plot very, very loosely and generally for a story, just discuss it for a few minutes. Uh. We might say- say Jack, and I’d say Jack, in the next Thor, how about bringing back Galactus fighting the planet Ego or something. And Jack will say great. And off he goes. I don’t know where he goes, but off he goes. I don’t see him for a week. He comes back a week later and the whole strip is drawn. And nobody knows what I’m gonna see on those pages. He may have come up with a dozen new ideas, you see. It’ll have something to do with Galactus and Ego. And I take it and I write it on the basis of what Jack has drawn. He’s broken it down to continuity for me. He’s drawn the whole thing actually. I put in the dialogue and the captions. So he doesn’t know exactly what I’m gonna write, what words I’m gonna put in their mouths. I don’t know what he’s gonna draw. The whole thing is, uh, virtual chaos. But somehow, when it gets together, it- it seems to hold together pretty well. We- we kind of like working this way.
Hodel: Well, my own favorite book is the Avengers. Uh. I guess, I have a hangup over a group of superheros, rather than individuals. And each one of the Avengers, which have, which number six, and I believe the, uh, official count is eight, although I gather they’re changing. You’re-
Hodel: … bringing some new ones in.
I remember in one book that you toyed with the idea of making Spider-man an Avenger and then decided no. We better not. He works best alone.
When you start out with, uh, well, with the Avengers, sometimes do they get ahead of you?
Lee: Oh, I’d say all the characters get ahead of us. I sometimes think they write their own stories.
Lee: Uh. The Avengers, we have almost the same problem as Jack has with the Fantastic Four. There are so many of them and they all have so many of their own problems. And we have another fellow writing that now, Roy Thomas, who’s just been added to our writing staff recently. And, uh, (laughs) I don’t know how the poor guy is doing it. I- I got out of the Avengers when it began to get complicated and Roy inherited them. There are now a million more characters there than there ever were when I wrote the book. In fact, I can’t even keep track. If you say there are eight, I’ll take your word for that. I thought they were at (laughs) 35 by now.
Lee: Every character we have, when we don’t know what to do with them, we throw them into the Avengers.
Kirby: Not only that, we have to make sure, I’m sorry, we have to make sure that they’re not involved in situations which won’t conflict with the one we want to create at that moment.
Hodel: You took care of one of those very nicely in the newest Avengers strip. I don’t recall the number, but, uh, the subplot concerns getting, I think it’s the Red Witch in..
Lee: Scarlet Witch.
Hodel: The Scarlet Witch-
Lee: The Scarlet Witch. Of course.
Hodel: … into the Avengers and this causes its own hang ups because, uh, unlike most of comic-dom, there are people who don’t like her, don’t think she should be a member of the group.
And, uh, meanwhile, in another book, you have sent Captain America off looking for somebody else. And you tied up one of the loose ends by, uh, in the Avengers. This is getting complicated. (laughs)
Hodel: By, uh, saying that he was off. It was very nicely done. I was curious when- when he left his post in his own book, which is Strange Tales or Tales of Suspense. I can’t-
Lee: Captain America is in Strange … No. I’m sorry. He’s in Tales of Suspense. Free plug. (laughs)
Kirby: (laugh) This all sounds very familiar.
Lee: (laughs) Strange Tales, since you asked, features Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of Shield, who also stars in his own book, Sgt. Fury, uh, and His Howling Commandos, which is probably the nuttiest title every conceived of.
Hodel: I wanted to ask you about, uh, Mr. Fury, Sergeant, Colonel-
Lee: Well, he’s in- in Strange Tales, he’s Colonel Nick Fury. Um. I think I can anticipate your question, the fact that he’s in two books, uh, concurrently. What happened was, we put out this war book sort of as a gag a long time ago. When our superheros were doing so well, I mentioned to our publisher, Martin Goodman, that, um, it seems to me we seem to have a formula for these books now and it doesn’t much matter what the subject matter is, as long as they are written and drawn in the style that I think the readers would like them, this, uh, sort of realistic style. I said, to prove it, I bet if we put out a war magazine, which were no great shakes at that time, we could sell just as well and we could make the public like it as well. And, uh, just sort of on a gamble, we did it and we came up with the most unlikely name, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. I think I was always captivated by the names Screaming Eagles from World War II. This was the closest I could get.
Um. At any rate, we gave them a lot of personality. They weren’t just a bunch of soldiers who fought heroically and that was it. They quarreled among themselves and they had their own … They were a squad. Everything was wrong too. For example, Americans weren’t Commandos during the war, they were Rangers. The English were Commandos. We made them American and we still called them Commandos and they were based in England. And in our usual bumbling way, all the facts were pretty inaccurate, but the characterization was there and they were led by tough, rough and tough sergeant, and nobody can draw rough and tough sergeants better than Jack, who did the first few books, Sgt. Fury, Nick Fury. And there are a lot of other interesting characters with him.
Well, at any rate, uh, the stories took place during World War II. The readers loved them so much that they said, why don’t you have stories of … What’s Sgt. Fury … They- they began to think he was a real person. What is Sgt. Fury doing today? That was 25 years ago. Is he alive today? What’s he doing? Why don’t you have a book of Sgt. Fury in the vet-, in the Vietnamese war today and so forth?
I didn’t want to put him in the Vietnamese war, but at that time the James Bond things were popular and we figured it might be very logical for Fury to be a, um, in intelligence or a counter spy or something of the sort. Not that logical ’cause he’s a very, um, rough and tough, hard-bitten guy without nearly the polish of your average secret operative, which also is typical of the way we do things. He’d be the last guy you would expect to be a debonair head of a secret organization, so we made him Colonel Fury, the Head of S.H.I.E.L.D, which is like any of these others, like U.N.C.L.E. or anything else.
So we now have stories of Sgt. Fury in World War II and the same fellow today as Colonel Fury, the Head of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Hodel: Do you ever get an overwhelming impulse to kill off the Sergeant and let them wonder how the Colonel got there?
Lee: You know, I never thought of that, but (laughs) that’s a very, very good point. That would drive everybody crazy. (laughs).
Kirby: It’s like having your own grandmother. Killing your own grandmother. I’m sorry.
Hodel: Do, uh, do your books run in trends or are there plots that run in trends that you have to anticipate or- or try to keep up with?
Lee: This was the case for 25 years, uh, for 20 years before we started with the so-called Marvel Age with comics. In the past, if the war books were selling, we would put out war books and we’d sell our share. If the, uh, crime stories, cops and robbers type of thing, if they were selling, we’d put those out and we’d sell our share and so forth.
Now, fortunately, we seem to feel that we’re creating the trends. Most, I think if we put out a book of romance stories or aviation stories or what have you, we would create a trend in so doing, because we have a loyal following among fandom and as long as we can write them well and draw them well, I don’t think it much matters what the subject matter is, it … And I know there are a lot of people who’ll disagree with me, but I feel the important thing is how well you do it. So we think of ourselves as being the top of the trends right now, instead of just following them.
Hodel: Well, if you’re making the trends, what do you think is gonna be next? Where do you go from here?
Lee: You know, I’m- I’m afraid, I- I could answer it and I daren’t ’cause we are working on a new magazine and if you invite me back here about a month or two from now, I’ll tell you then. But I know, if I mention it and any of the competition hears it, they might just beat us to it. But we do have a new type of magazine that we are working on right now. It should be on sale in about four months.
Hodel: I wanted to ask you, what is the, uh, the time element involved in from, uh, from your and Jack’s idea to the time it hits the stands?
Lee: Well, I’d say from the time Jack and I do a strip, uh, to the time it hits that stand, must be about three and half to four months.
Hodel: What, uh, causes that great a lag, just the mechanics?
Lee: Yeah. The strip comes into the house and it sits around for a while, while it’s proofread and edited. Then it goes out and the photostats are made and the stats are colored for the engraver. Then it’s sent to the comic’s magazine association, where they check it over and make sure that there’s nothing objectionable according to the code of ethics that we have in the industry. Then it goes to the engraver then the mat maker, as far as I know. I don’t know too much about this. I think Jack knows more than I do. Printer and so forth, the distributor and it’s shipped around the country. It’s just a complicated thing. It takes a long time.
Hodel: Does it cost a lot of money? How much per book would you say?
Lee: You know, I’m embarrassed. I have been in the business so long and not to know. But I-
Lee: Jack would know. Wait a minute.
Kirby: Higher than it used to be. I- I can’t give you an exact amount, but certainly everything costs more. Uh. A magazine that you put out in 1940 might cost you twice as much to put out today. Cost of paper. Cost of printing and engraving.
But, uh, magazines- magazines are- are doing fairly well in the economy and certainly holding up and, uh- uh, the price of production certainly is, uh- uh, on a level which benefits, uh, from the sales we’re, you know, the magazines are getting so there’s no complaints on that score, not from Marvel, as far as I know.
Hodel: (laughs) Well, and you can sell enough books at 12 cents or 25 cents a piece to, uh, do reasonably well.
Lee: Well, we have to sell a lot of them because I think that the profit, you know, on a 12 cent book is just, uh … Again, I don’t know. It may be a penny or two pennies, but it’s something in that area. Most of it goes to the- the printer, the wholesaler, the distributor, the store keeper and so forth, and just a little bit of it trickles back to the publisher. Fortunately, we sell hundreds of thousands of them so, I don’t think there’s too big a problem as far as making a dollar here and there.
Hodel: Before we went on the air, uh, you and Jack were involved in a slight argument over whether Marvel should, uh, remain number two in superheros or you should, uh, take advantage of the fact that you are selling more books than, what shall I say, the other leading publisher.
Lee: Well, I don’t know that we’re selling more. I think they’re printing more cont-, they- they have more books, consequently they more in total volume. I think our percentage of sales is higher. For the books we print, I think we sell more copies of them.
Yes, we- we are having and ar- … The argument in a nutshell, then I’ll let Jack speak his piece, is I feel that I don’t want to lose our image of being the underdogs, which we’ve had for years. The little outfit that came along and we’re, um, challenging the big fellas. The American public being the way it is, once we’re known to be the leaders, they’re liable to sympathize with another outfit. So I’d like us to kind of, uh, have the, it’s not that I don’t want us to be top, but I’d like with the public, I’d like them to think of us as the little, homey, uh, fun outfit that, you know, we’re not quite that and successful. We’re not that fat cat-ish yet.
Lee: Jack feels differently though I think.
Kirby: Well, I feel that we, well certainly, we may be number one but still retain the type of character that we’ve always had. Certainly if people like you at first, there- there’s no reason why they shouldn’t continue to like- like you unless there’s some sort of a radical change in your makeup. If you’re a good magazine, I imagine that they will keep reading it and your readers will be faithful to you.
Certainly, uh, they don’t expect you to, uh, get the arrogance that you might expect with, uh, a champion of any kind. Uh. There, uh, there have been champions that have been humble and that have had fine characters and have been likable. Uh. Certainly, uh, people who’ve had the admiration of the public for years. And there have been champions who have had color and arrogance and have been disliked and, uh, yet have, uh, retained, uh, the quality that have made them champions.
So it doesn’t matter what kind of character the magazines have, the … My- my contention is that it must have the content that the readers like. Uh. Although, the magazine certainly has- has, uh, an individual personality, which Stan has instilled, uh, through his cultivation of the readers. Uh. We still have the content that is superior to any of the magazines on the market and I as a reader would like to read Marvel. And when I do a strip on Marvel, I feel that I’m a reader. I’m certainly never bored with the stuff I read in Marvel. And, uh, I may get to dislike Stan or dislike anybody else in the organization, but that won’t deter me from buying the magazine.
So I feel we are number one. We should be number one, and we say we’re number one and, uh, have no regrets about it. If we’re not number one, we’d like to, I- I feel that we should take, uh, the criticism and, uh, use it for its value. Take whatever value the criticism has and use it for our improvement. It’s as simple as that.
Lee: Well, I think Jack is a real pussy cat to say that and I know what he means and I certainly want us to be number one too and I agree with everything he says. I think the quality should be as good as we can make it and I think the readers will always read our material, if it, uh, what they want to read.
My only feeling is, as I mention, I like to think of this whole thing as an advertising campaign and I just know that the public generally likes an underdog. And while I’m not sure we’ll lose anybody if they think we’ve grown terribly complacent and successful, I think it’s more fun for the reader to think he’s latched on to something that is sort of his little discovery and, um, it’s a little bit far out and the general public hasn’t quite discovered it yet and he can tell his friends about it. But the minute the reader feels everybody knows about Marvel and everybody likes Marvel, then I’m just afraid, while they’ll still read us, but as far as their sympathies are concerned, they may try to find something else that nobody has discovered yet-
Kirby: Well, I-
Lee: … to lavish their affection on.
Kirby: I think what the reader does not like is false humility. The reader by this time knows that Marvel is number one. He knows that Marvel is superior. He knows that Marvel has quite a number of readers.
Kirby: And if we were to tell them, that we are humble and, uh, that we’re not quite number one, he won’t believe it.
Lee: No. I don’t mean-
Kirby: He will not believe it.
Lee: I don’t mean tell him. I think the one thing we have never been accused of is humility, whether false or otherwise, because our readers figure we’re the most conceited group in the world and they get a kick out of it because we’re always bragging.
Kirby: That’s too true.
Lee: We call ourselves Marvel, the House of Ideas.
Lee: We have phrases like “Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of comics?” and they’re always writing letters to us, “You guys may be the most swell-headed guys in the world, but you gotta right to be and we still love you.” I don’t-
Kirby: And there you are. (laughs)
Lee: I’m not talking about humility, I’m talking about the fact that I think it would be better for us if the reader does not think of us as being on top of the heap, as far as being a rich, successful outfit. And I might be dead wrong, but then I don’t know that that’s the image I think I’d like the public to have of us.
Hodel: You’ve been listening to two of the most humble-
Lee: (laughs)Hodel: … and feared underdogs in the number one spot in the comic business, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee of Marvel Comics and, uh, this is Mike Hodel for WBAI.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH
Sometime in the early 1970’s a friend gave Jack a nicely bound artbook with a black blank cover as a gift, for doodling or practice. Since Jack did neither of these he used the book for a different purpose. As a present to Roz, he carefully drew most every comic creation he had had a hand in. The book took on a life of its own. Variously called Roz’s Black Book, or Kirby’s Wonderbook, the creation was a valuable treasure shown only to those close to Roz, Greg Theakston had the luck to see the book in the later 70’s and expressed to Roz that someone should publish it. Over the years several publishers approached to do just that, only to be refused by Roz because she didn’t want to be separated from the book. At some point in the 80’s Greg talked to Roz and after a stern promise not to let any harm come to the book, she allowed Greg to publish it. Greg named it the Heroes and Villains book. Greg lovingly reproduced these pages in a manner fitting the love and graphite Jack put into them. The results were substantial. Greg had to reprint the book several times in order to meet the sales. The book is a cherished part of any Kirby collection.
Just as Jack made the decision to leave DC, a relative of Steve Sherman’s arranged for jack to meet ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Paul and his new group Wings had just released a new album which contained a song called Magneto vs. Titanium Man, inspired by Jack’s comic book work. Gary (Steve’s brother) called Capitol Records headquarters in Los Angeles and spoke to the A&R man assigned to McCartney. He told the rep that Jack had done a drawing to honor Paul for the song and wondered if Paul would like to meet Jack. The AR man was well aware of who Jack Kirby was and after talking to Paul’s road people called back and told Gary that Paul would love to meet up with Jack at the Forum pre-show. Gary called the Kirby’s and told Lisa to show Jack the album and have her dad do up a sketch to give Paul. It had to be done quick as the show was in a couple hours and Jack was more than an hour away.
Just another day
When Gary arrived Jack showed him the sketch, Gary recalls it was great. It was a large size drawing of Magneto holding Paul and Linda while members of the band floated in the air. All of this done during Gary’s trip over to pick them up—not more than 45 minutes.
Gary piled them into the Kirby car and headed to the Forum, Kirby contently smoking a big ole stogie. Kirby seemed more interested in the chocolate cake promised him for the aggravation. When they arrived they went to the rear entrance where security introduced them to the lovely Linda McCartney who thanked them and gave then a tour.
Then around the corner came Paul. Gary recalled; “Ello Jack, nice to meet you.” Jack gave Paul and Linda the drawing which they thought was “smashing.” Paul thanked Jack for keeping him from going bonkers while they were recording the album in Jamaica. It seems that there was very little to do there, and they needed to keep their kids entertained. Luckily, there was a store that sold comics, so Paul would go and pick up all the latest. One night the song “Magneto and Titanium Man” popped into his head. The thing about Jack was that within a few minutes you felt as if you were best friends, so Paul too was soon laughing it up with Jack as if he had known him for years.
Lisa had her camera and snapped pictures of all involved. Paul comp’ed them some tickets and sent them out front sitting nestled between Ryan O’Neal and Michael Douglas. During the show Paul stopped and asked everyone to give it up for Jack Kirby. Jack stood up and waved just as Wings broke into Magneto vs. Titanium Man. After the gala event, as they were driving back to Thousand Oaks. Jack told Gary just how much he appreciated the evening and to show his appreciation he suggested stopping at Bob’s Big Boy for some more chocolate cake.
It should be noted that the intervening years at Marvel had been tempestuous as personnel came and went, the only new series to really succeed was a tie-in character of the barbarian Conan – a pulp character by Robert E. Howard. They were succeeding by quantity, not quality. If one Spidey title had worked, why not try two, or three. Spin-offs and reprints seemed to be the winning hand; new stuff came and went. Stan Lee had jumped around; sometimes as editor, sometimes president, and sometimes freelance contributor. The company though always kept Stan as figurehead—the smiling face that created the comics. They went so far as to place the heading “Stan Lee Presents” above all the comic titles—even when Stan had no part in them. Stan got away from the comics and started writing and editing regular books about the beginning of the Marvel revolution. Books like Origins of Marvel Comics were big hits yet the titles credited only Stan Lee. Any mention of Jack Kirby was purely as minor as noting who the illustrator was. Jack noted these slights. Roy Thomas says the reason was purely political. Kirby was now a competitor and you don’t highlight competitors. To Kirby, the truth was the truth. Despite his legend as a comic genius, when Stan had the reins of Marvel the company almost went belly up—Stan could not repeat his sales increases once Jack Kirby left.
Despite its roots as an honorary society, the Academy of Comic Book Arts, under its early president, artist Neal Adams, became an advocacy organization for creators’ rights. The comic-book industry at that time did not return artists’ physical artwork after shooting the requisite film for printing, and in some cases destroyed the artwork to prevent unauthorized reprints. The industry also did not then offer royalties or residuals, common in such creative fields as book publishing, film and television, and the recording industry. Once the ACBA — riding a wave begun by the mid-’70s independent startup Atlas/Seaboard Comics, which instituted royalties and the return of artwork in order to attract creators — helped see those immediate goals achieved, it then gradually disbanded
In 1975, the 1974 ACBA awarded its annual recognition called the Shazam Awards.
Best Continuing Feature: Conan the Barbarian (Marvel)
Best Individual Story: “Götterdämmerung”, Detective Comics #443 (DC)
Best Individual Short Story (Dramatic): “Cathedral Perilous” (Manhunter) by Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson, Detective Comics #441 (DC)
Best Writer (Dramatic Division): Archie Goodwin
Best Penciller (Dramatic Division): John Buscema
Best Inker (Dramatic Division): Dick Giordano
Best Humor Story: “Kaspar the Dead Baby” Crazy #8 (Marvel)
Best Writer (Humor Division): Steve Skeates
Best Penciller (Humor Division): Marie Severin
Best Inker (Humor Division): Ralph Reese
Best Letterer: John Costanza
Best Colorist: Tatjana Wood
Outstanding New Talent: Craig Russell
Superior Achievement by an Individual: Roy Thomas
Hall of Fame: Jack Kirby
But this didn’t mean Jack was done.
Jack ran into Roy at a convention and during the discussion Jack explains he is not all that happy at DC. Roy, taking the hint says that Marvel would love for him to return. Stan was delighted and after agreeing to terms very similar to Kirby’s DC contract such as self editing, writing and art control, Kirby agreed. Despite some initial blowback from other Marvel employees, Stan told Roy Thomas that he was bringing Jack back. “I think that’s great” Roy exclaimed, “I got one piece of advice. Don’t let him write” Stan understood but explained that part of the contract was that Kirby was the writer. Roy still liked the idea. Things were so bad at Marvel that the idea of Kirby returning must have seen like a gift from God. At a comic convention in New York, Stan made the joyful announcement to the fans that Jolly Jack was once again returning to the House of Ideas. The crowd erupted in excitement. Kirby promised that his new concepts would “electrocute the mind”. Stan just shook his head in amazement. Marie Severin – never a shrinking violet remarks about Kirby’s return to Marvel. “I came up to the office and I saw Jack, and Stan put a page in front of my face and said, “You did not see any of this!” And I said, “Okay, I did not see any of this” and I went out in the hall and yelled, “Kirby’s back!”
During the changeover, Kirby also found some outside advertising work. In response to the rise of G.I. Joe, Caption Action and other military style action figures, Mattel had manufactured the Big Jim action figure since the early 1970s. In 1975 they decided to expand and reformat the figure into a sort of Mission Impossible/merc team name P.A.C.K. Jack designed the packaging for a part of this line of action figures. Jack did not create the characters, but Big Jim and his crew of soldiers of fortune got the Kirby treatment on their boxes and comic book ads. John Buscema provided a comic insert. Ironically, Mark Evanier tells a poignant tale about how one day, he took Jack and Roz shopping, and while Roz was in the store, Mark suggested that he and Jack go into a nearby Toys R Us toy store.
Jack’s manner became stiff and shaky and he told Mark he can’t go in there, to which Mark replied that it would be ok, Roz will be a while. Still Kirby refused and Mark could see real fear in Jack’s eyes, so he changed the subject. Later when he got Roz alone he asked her about the incident, and Roz explained that when Jack would go into a Toys R Us type shop he would get physically ill from seeing so many toys based on his creations for sale, using his art, and ironically while Kirby received nothing back for all the money he was making the companies. Here he was making good money on just such advertising for characters he hadn’t created.
Everpresent Kirby characters for Marvel items c.1975
Jack’s Back!! So read the cover of FOOM #11. FOOM was Marvel’s in-house magazine. The cover featured Jack Kirby bursting thru the cover drawn by John Byrne in a Kirby style bombastic pose. Thus Marvel reintroduced Kirby to their public. It offered an error-filled history and a Kirby interview where he talks about being back at Marvel. The cover might be more symbolic than one realizes. Since Kirby left for DC, Marvel had been promoting several artists as the hot new thing, and John Byrne led the list. In fact the comic industry had entered a period that might be called the “Cult of Personality” phase where the artists, rather than the characters were presented as the selling point to the buying public. With hindsight perhaps it was Kirby’s time at DC that began the cult of personality cult. With Kirby returning, the rightful claimant to the hot artist title had returned. As noticed, Kirby had just been awarded a place in the Comic Book Arts Hall of Fame; an award that Kirby vowed not to be a signal for an end of a career, but a continuation.
In the interview Kirby explains that his first job is reintroducing Captain America. “The story I’m running now is slanted towards the Bicentennial. In fact, it’s a long running novel with many chapters in it. Each chapter is a separate but connected story. Of course, the climax of the story is going to occur on the Bicentennial in 1976. It’s going to be Captain America as he should be. Captain America winning because he has the character to win and to triumph over evil.” What Kirby describes is what we now call a mini-series, a format that would become popular a decade later. What wasn’t mentioned was the meetings with Stan where they decided just what Kirby would do. Jack refused the FF and Thor—he didn’t want to regurgitate, he wanted to create. A compromise was reached where Jack would do Captain America plus some new series. Jack refused to continue Cap, he rather start from scratch, so the ongoing story was ended mid-stream.
Steranko failing as Kirby – Byrne doing his Kirby-est
Kirby also notes that he has also started the adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey; a large format retelling of the epic Kubrick film from 1968. Plus he mentions a secret project about “gods who walk among us”. Once again, it seems Kirby had his plate full and he felt energized.
What the buying public first saw was something different. Of the titles cover dated Nov. 1975, Kirby supplied the covers for a whopping ten Marvel titles; from Fantastic Four to Conan GS #1. The following month had a couple more. None of these featured any Kirby interior art, but it was a great way to let the buyers know who the rightful king was and who Marvel thought represented the type art that sold comic books, despite having Marie Severin provide layouts and providing working sketches of characters unknown to Jack. For the next several years Kirby covers would be used to help sell non-Kirby series; this so resembled how Kirby used to draw the covers for almost all of the early Marvel titles. The reprint titles became even more oppressive a factor on the news stands that it must have looked like Kirby did twenty books a month. That same month DC published 4 Kirby inventory titles. These had all interiors done by Jack, but no covers. A very strange month.
Big and better
With the release of Captain America #193 dated Jan. 1976, customers finally saw new Kirby stories and this was unique; “Madbomb, Screamer in the Brain” was an eight part dense tale of mind control and conspiracy from within our own government. It also featured probably Kirby’s oddest cameo since Don Rickles, when Henry Kissinger paid a call on the red, white and blue Avenger, and his new pal, The Falcon. The Falcon was not a Kirby creation, but a small time black, flying character that had partnered up with Cap while Kirby was away. The black and white tension was used effectively by Jack during a scene where both men become overwhelmed by a mind altering ray and their worst tendencies took over. Henry Kissinger’s dialogue was a take off on comedian Henny Youngman. Jack always saved his best art for Captain America. Once again, Jack’s name was proudly featured on the cover.
But all was not well, While Kirby was gone, a whole new editorial crew had emerged at Marvel, and their memories weren’t as tied into Kirby’s time at Marvel. Scott Edelman was just such a person; he had been promoted to assistant editor. In an interview Scott admitted; “I know there are plenty of people who loved the work Kirby did on his return to Marvel in the ’70s, but I wasn’t one of them. I can remember sitting in the Bullpen and proofing the original art for Jack’s first issue back on Captain America, and just feeling … sad. I still feel that nothing Kirby did alone could compare with the work he did Stan Lee—in my opinion, they needed each other—but looking back on how I expressed myself then, I know I came off like an ungrateful brat. And I don’t like that. After all Kirby did for us, we should have been happy to be able to read whatever he was willing to give us, whether it was up to the old days or not.” Kirby might have lost some, but Stan Lee had totally lost his mojo. He had not created anything or written anything memorable in years. The only memorable Lee story was a novelty effort where Spider-Man took on the drug trade. The story was nothing much, but the fight with the code ramped up the interest. With Stan shuffled off to the background, there was no one there who could have improved Jack’s stories.
Jack’s new series may not have been the same Stan Lee style adventure, but it had a vision and an energy no other Marvel editor had. No one else had a yearlong plan for their books. The dialogue wasn’t Lee’s glibness, but the plot was as dense and active as ever found with Kirby’s pacing on the Captain America saga among his best ever. Kirby even made the Falcon an interesting partner.
When asked about working on a non-Kirby character like the Falcon, Kirby explained: “I feel the Falcon is a very valid super-hero. He’s a strong type, and a team operation is just as effective as a single, if it’s really good, and that’s what I’m trying to make it.”
One of Marvel’s reprint books was a series titled Marvel Treasury Editions. These were reprints, but in a larger, more explosive size and format. Kirby supplied several covers for these issues, and he really liked the large size pages. It allowed him to make the backgrounds more emphatic, something that was lost when the page size was reduced in the late ‘60s. He also did two full books in this size and they may have been the best things he did during this new stint. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a comic book adaptation of Kubrick’s sci-fi film, and no artist but Kirby could have captured the majesty and the power of Kubrick’s visuals.. Kirby also colored parts of the book and the work is breath taking. Each page is a stand- alone masterpiece of innovation and design.
Kubrik’s masterpiece – Kirby always did his best for Captain America
For the country’s bicentennial, Kirby created a huge allegorical tale of Cap as seen thru American history. In Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, Cap is given the ability to go back in time and see how he would have influenced the course of US history. We see him during the Revolutionary War, frolicking with Ben Franklin and inspiring Betsy Ross to create a red, white, and blue flag with stars. We see him just before the Civil War assisting a slave fleeing for freedom, and in a WW1 aerial dogfight, and most poignantly during the Great Depression helping out a scrappy young news boy being strong armed by gangsters, a youngster who promises to be a big-shot comic artist one day, and make the gangsters pay for their cruelty. Cap also returns to his darkest day, the day Bucky died during WW2. All this time travel is similar to James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Buda, the little guy who sent Cap thru time and space is trying to shake the depression from Cap over the bad things he sees in the US and make him realize all the great moments, and the role he has played in making the US great. It ends with Kirby’s most heartfelt patriotic sentiment. Cap tells a group of young teens, “I’m looking for something bigger than any super-villain—and I think I’ve found it here among you young people. It isn’t an object exactly, it’s a terrific feeling that we can become strong enough and smart enough to beat the overwhelming problems which every American has to live with.’ The young kids respond “Yeah, We can be anything we want to! And Cap/Kirby says; “That’s America! A place of stubborn confidence—where both young and old can hope and dream, and wade though disappointment, despair, and the crunch of events—with the chance of making life meaningful.” What a great valentine for America from one of its true heroes; a boy born of nothing who through grit and pluck became its greatest storyteller.
The next big news was the release of Kirby’s “gods who walk among us” series. Originally titled “The Return of the Gods”, but because of the closeness to a new DC title, it was changed to “The Eternals” Coincidentally, the DC title was called “The Return of the New Gods” which brought Kirby’s New Gods concepts back into DC’s universe. It should also be noted that the other Fourth World characters didn’t disappear; they all showed up in the showcase title Brave and the Bold with long time DC characters.
True to his source
The Eternals was a sprawling cosmic tale of a collection of Celestial beings who have returned to Earth. It seems that these beings have visited Earth several times in the long past and have done experiments on the bestial inhabitants that evolved into three separate races, who have unknowingly cohabitated the Earth. The first race was mankind, who settled on the land and cultivated and prospered. The second race was the Eternals, a group of near gods who were gifted with super powers and virtual immortality. Their homes were the mountain tops. The third race was the Deviants, a group of demons and monstrous beasts who resided in the depths of the seas. In the far past these three races did intermingle, and from those times stories of godlike creatures who inhabited the heavens, and devilish creatures who inhabited the inner Earth were told. After some battles among the races they separated and left each other alone. But with the return of the Celestials, it has become necessary for the three races to work together, for the role of the Celestials was to judge mankind and if found wanting, to destroy it. This tale was part Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods , part 2001 A Space Odyssey, part Jewish mythology, and part Aztek and Roman/Greco mythology, and mostly Jack’s manic imagination. It was as far out as any story ever told, An old problem soon arose. Jack’s story couldn’t easily fit into Marvel’s universe, so the editor asked for some cross-over characters to interact in his tale. Kirby managed to squeeze in a few references to SHIELD without actually having Nick Fury appear, but eventually he relented and threw in a story about a remote controlled robotic Hulk that misfires and runs amok, and the hero Ikaris has to subdue it.
Kirby bristled but took it like a man and gave them what they wanted. Not unlike the New Gods, the Eternals problems were Kirby made. It was too sprawling and no easy way for newcomers to work their way in. Its dark operatic tone did not fit into Marvel’s happy friendly milieu. After 19 issues, and an Annual, the series ended. But as always, the characters had become a part of the Marvel Universe, and still show up in different ways. No other Marvel series had such a scope.
Another pop-sci-fi favorite fell into Jack’s lap when Stan Lee turned a proposed series based on the cult favorite TV show The Prisoner in Jack’s direction. The Prisoner was a short lived British spy genre show starring Patrick McGoohan as a spy, whose retirement is interrupted when he is shunted off to a sinister remote Island run by a faceless corporate entity that restricts his movement and access to the outside world- literally a scenic prison. Originally scheduled to be produced by writer Steve Englehart and artist Gil Kane, the rejected project was handed off to Kirby. Perhaps due to Kirby’s familiarity and appeal to paranoid, dystopian concepts, and man against corporation struggles. Amazingly, Jack was given the job of writing the script as well as illustrating the tale. Jack produced just one issue’s worth of art, and it contains the first half of the original origin story from the TV show titled “The Arrival”. Mike Royer inked and lettered just five pages when the project came to a halt. The few pages ever published show a very restrained, almost claustrophobic Kirby—heavy in text and lacking his usual bombast and explosiveness. Though true to the source material, it appears that the cerebral nature of the show might have been too much of a restriction to Kirby’s natural inclinations—but it would have been interesting if Kirby was allowed to take the concepts in his own direction.
Kirby trying to be faithful
Ever since the late 1960’s, Marvel’s financial position had been heading South. It remained the industry leader, but its value had dropped dangerously. Jim Galton, the CEO actually talked about bankruptcy. Roy Thomas had been hired to help relieve Stan’s burden. For the first couple years, he played a small role. His position at times was one of derision. Jack’s caricature of Roy as Funky Flashman’s toady was not that far off. Roy had been tasked with the lowest, most meaningless titles. But lightning struck one day when he was told to get Marvel a license for a sword and sorcery title. His first instinct was that the one he wanted would be too expensive, but surprisingly, the Estate of Robert Howard was practically begging for someone to publish new Conan stories. Despite little urging from the powers that be, Roy found his cheap art source and created the only real success Marvel would have for the next 5 years. The success of Conan did not make Marvel suddenly profitable, but it helped stem the hemorrhaging. But by 1976, even Conan could no longer stop the flow; nothing Marvel put out was helping. Very little came from merchandising and licensing of their products.
With this success, Marvel expanded into the licensing market and other properties from outside were added. Thongor and Kull became a part of Marvel’s Universe. In 1976 Stan Lee had a meeting with film-producer George Lucas, about creating a comic book based on a new movie called Star Wars. Stan was of the opinion that a new “space opera” was not really salable, and passed. George Lucas and his partner in the Supersnipe Comic Shop Ed Summer went to Roy Thomas – the golden boy since Conan – and made the same proposal. At this dinner George Lucas was relaying his story for Star Wars in which Roy Thomas noticed it sounded a lot like Jack Kirby’s New Gods. What Roy took away from this part of the dinner was that George Lucas was hugely indebted to Jack Kirby for Star Wars. Roy’s feelings were more positive and after further negotiations, Roy was able to obtain the licensing free. Just the opposite where Goodman once gave the movies free rights to Captain America, now the movies gave a comic publisher free rights hoping for good public feedback. All Lucas asked for was that the books hit the stands before the movie so that it could help the build-up.
With the go ahead, Roy again ignored the more expensive and perhaps, more logical penciller, and went to a lower tier artist who had done sword and sorcery work for Roy. Howard Chaykin was hired for the first edition.
Guest starring Dr. Doom?????
Jim Shooter-soon to be editor-in-chief explained the results;
“The first two issues of our six (?) issue adaptation came out in advance of the movie. Driven by the advance marketing for the movie, sales were very good. Then about the time the third issue shipped, the movie was released. Sales made the jump to hyperspace.
Star Wars the movie stayed in theaters forever, it seemed. Not since the Beatles had I seen a cultural phenomenon of such power. The comics sold and sold and sold. We reprinted the adaptation in every possible format. They all sold and sold and sold.
In the most conservative terms, it is inarguable that the success of the Star Wars comics was a significant factor in Marvel’s survival through a couple of very difficult years, 1977 and 1978.”
Once again, Roy Thomas – the almost forgotten gofer had become the hero; as Jim Shooter says, “Roy Thomas saved Marvel” And it came from outside. The success of Star Wars finally helped lift all boats. Jim Galton says that Star Wars comics made him rich—and after some begrudging, he offered Roy Thomas a $500 bonus. Nice guy!
Nestled deep in the beautiful Tuscan treeswept landscape is a miraculous walled town of Lucca, Italy. Its claim to fame is that the famed musician Puccini was born in this sleepy little Renaissance town. Oddest of all, it has become the center of the comic book fan industry as every Oct. it is transformed into a costumed Mecca of comic fans. Since 1966, since the con was moved to Lucca, it has become the center of European fandom. In 1976, Lucca decided that Jack Kirby should be the honoree of the convention. The group running it sent Jack and Roz tickets to show up. Jack was wined and dined and treated like royalty. The main event was held in an old Renaissance opera house that intimidated Jack and Roz. Most seemed to be a whirl of activities and wrestling with translators. Jack recalls; KIRBY: “Well, actually, there were two awards. There was a plaque which was presented to me by the mayor of Lucca, and it has the image of the opera house on it. It is a substantial award, in weight anyhow. I believe it is an etching of the opera house of Lucca which, of course, I am always going to remember because it was so colorful. The other award was a gold-plated statuette of the Yellow Kid, mounted on Italian marble. And, it has an inscription on the statuette itself which is in the dialogue of the Yellow Kid, which in turn, I believe, is supposed to be the first comic strip ever done.” Shel Dorf asked him about the Italian people; Do they have good restaurants? KIRBY: “Their restaurants are terrific. They have terrific restaurants, they have terrific food, and they have terrific personnel who serve you. It is a pleasure eating in any Italian dining place. I hope that many more Americans go there, and enjoy themselves as much as I did.”
Lucca is for comic lovers
Kirby was certainly enjoying his new found celebrity in his later years. Years later, a dream came true when Jack and Roz accompanied a group from their Temple to The Holy Land. One can only imagine what Kirby drew and slipped into the Wailing Wall.
Roy Thomas wanted Kirby back on a company product and they chose the Black Panther. Kirby’s African chief had gone through several incarnations, straight super hero, an Avenger, and lately a social force taking on the Klan and racism. What I have often wondered was, why not ask Jack Kirby to do the Star Wars book when Roy personally thought the premise was ripped from Jack Kirby, plus he wanted Jack to do a company property. Jack was the best at “space opera”. Why give him a decade old 2001 adaptation but not give him a new book? I think Marvel missed the boat here. Despite the dropping of the Prisoner project, Roy did talk Jack into renewing the Black Panther. When Kirby took it over, he took the Panther on an even stranger route. The Panther was now an archeological treasure hunter, and his prize was a Biblical artifact of immense power. His search would take him on many an adventure and even bring him into conflict with an alien life force of great power, plus an undersized companion and a new femme fatale. His search was also thwarted by other searchers, who also wanted the mystical relic. This storyline effectively took the Panther out of the current Marvel Universe and once again seemed to isolate the other Marvel bullpenners. But in mid-1977, something else caught their attention and kept them busy.
In May 1977, the film Star Wars hit the screen. No film had ever influenced pop culture so immediately before or since this film. It was a phenomenon. Space Opera on film would never be the same. The special effects were leap years ahead of any space film before it. The scope of the story, and the mixture of genres was comparable to only one thing; Kirby’s New Gods trilogy. His villain looked like Dr. Doom. The interfamily dispute, the father son dynamic, The “source/force” similarity. That the evil presence was actually called the dark side, as compared to Darkseid. Even the grouping of characters was similar to Kirby’s time tested template. The heroic pilot, the hot headed kid, the burly brawny sidekick, and the elderly mystical mentor, could all be found in Kirby’s road tested template. The movie justified Kirby’s belief that people could accept a sprawling, action packed, space opera that worked on many different levels. The special effects ability had finally reached the point to match what comics had been doing for decades. The ability to add mass, detail and scale took out the campy look most sci-fi movies had been saddled with.
Kirby returns to the black Avenger with a twist
After several years dormancy, Marvel products once again started appearing in movie and TV productions. Late 1977 would find a Lee/Kirby creation back on TV; The Incredible Hulk was given the full live action treatment in a pair of made-for-TV movies. The show starred Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner, and body builder Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The movies were well received and in March 1978 became a weekly TV series. The series eschewed the sci-fi super-hero genre and centered on a “Fugitive-like” serial concerning research scientist Dr. Banner. Wanted for crimes, he escapes and travels around the country where he meets different people in moments of crisis and peril. Dr. Banner transforms into the Hulk in moments of extreme rage and the rampaging brute takes care of all villains and people of bad intent. Banner is hounded by a newspaper reporter in a Javert-like obsessive search to prove his eyewitness account of a brutish monster was true. The comparison was intentional, producer and writer Kenneth Johnson’s first instinct was to turn down the series, but then, while reading the Victor Hugo novel, Les Misérables, he became inspired and began working to develop the Hulk comic into a TV show. This aversion of comic book clichés and their accoutrements allowed the series to be taken seriously while still amazing the kids with the awesome transformation into the gruesome green monster. Though actually getting little screen time, Ferrigno’s mute monster played up the misunderstood lovable monster first seen in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
At the same time Nicholas Hammond portrayed Peter Parker in a TV version of Spider-man.
Jack was of several minds concerning the show. Once again Marvel produced an outside product without crediting Jack for his part in the creation, and Jack received no moneys from the leasing of the product. But Jack really liked the finished product. He loved Bill Bixby and thought the producers treated the creation respectfully and avoided the campiness of most TV super-hero shows such as Batman and Wonder Woman. In the second season, Jack even weaseled his way into a small cameo role as a police artist who had to draw a sketch from a crime victim’s description.
Kirby gets a cameo
In 1979, CBS produced two Captain America made for TV movies. Played by pretty boy Reb Brown in a silly costume hoping to get a series; they were so bad the idea died soon. The new Cap was the son of the original Cap. It was sort of Evel Knievel in a pair of blue pj’s. As usual; no credit for Jack and Joe.
On Jan. 1, 1978, the Copyright Law of 1978 took effect. This was the first make over of copyright laws since 1909. The reasoning behind coming up with a total new law was threefold; first because of the various new technologies that came to be after 1909. Many of the laws simply didn’t address the realities of duplication techniques that now existed. Second was to bring US copyright law into compliance with that of other countries because we were expected to become a signatory to the Berne Agreement, which controlled most of Europe. Third was to address the many loopholes and carve outs that had arisen due to 70 years of litigation and corporate strong-arming. This third area was what concerned the comic industry so much. There were two immediate concerns. First was that under the new law, original art was now clearly owned by the original artists. The company only paid for reproduction rights. So now as soon as the companies made their stats, the original art was shipped back to the artists. Second, the companies had always claimed that the artists were commissioned under what was called “work for hire” status. Their art and creations were owned exclusively by the companies and the artists had no rights to them.
The new law did not end the onerous “work for hire” status but decreed that work for hire must be agreed to in writing by both sides for it to be legal. So the artists who had worked for decades without any contracts now had to sign specific contracts for their services. What the law didn’t do was clarify how all those pieces created prior to the new contracts would be viewed for copyright purposes. Another change was that the tenure of copyright ownership was lengthened from 56 years to life of artist plus 50
And a clause that would really rattle the industry, though its effects wouldn’t be felt until the ‘90s, was that after 56 years of a company owning the copyrights, the law mandated that the rights reverted back to the creator. Not only would the rights revert to the artist, but the artist could not legally sign away that right. The idea is simple. Originally when an artist created a work, he would own the copyrights for 56 years. The artist had the right to assign those rights (lease) for a period of no more than 28 years. The reasoning was that 28 years was long enough for the leasee to exploit the property but then the copyright reverted back to the original creator to take advantage of any increase of value that the property had accrued in the 28 year period. So the artist now had a second bite of the apple and was able to sell the rights again, either to the same leasee, if the artist was happy with them, or, to a second company to exploit the copyright anew. This second bite of the apple was effectively removed when publishers, using their stronger negotiating position of power forced the artists to sign away not only the first but also the second 28 year term before they would publish the work. The Supreme Court ruled in a very important case that it was legal for the publishers to force the artist to sign both terms away at first publication because the law never specifically refused the artists from doing so. The new law removed this possibility by allowing for an automatic return of copyright after the initial copyright term (now 35 years) and for those caught in between, for the mandated return after the completed second term of copyright, not to exceed 56 years. The law also made clear that any contract that tried to circumnavigate the termination clause was unenforceable. So any artist forced to sign away his copyrights beyond the second 28 years found that that forced contract was invalid. Most of these changes were phased in over time, but it strengthened a movement already growing among the artists. That they had some power to demand changes in the way the comic industry worked; such as money for reprints, and artists owning the copyrights of their characters, and return of their entire stash of original art, plus proper credit for the work. The pendulum has started to swing from complete control by the company to a shared reward for successful properties. All those reasons that caused people like Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby and Wally Wood to leave Marvel, were now being addressed in favor of the artists. The industry was being forced to enter the Twentieth Century.
After the publication of the oversized 2001, it was decided that Kirby should continue his cosmic explorations, but from a familiar source. In the ongoing monthly series 2001 A Space Odyssey, Kirby expanded on his own concepts as well as some from Kubrick’s film. Where are we going? Somewhere in the dawn of time we began — somehow, in these perilous times we keep moving on — and sometime in the future, something will happen to change us! This was Kirby’s introduction for the series, not an easy premise to live up to.
From 2001, Kirby did it just for fun – just another page an inkers nightmare
But Steve Sherman says that space travel and aliens just came naturally to Jack. “I remember one evening just sitting with him, and I’d just read the book Rendezvous With Rama. I’m sitting talking to Jack about flying saucers and things like that, and Jack always claimed he could see UFOs from his picture window in Thousand Oaks, and you’d believe it. And in the space of about 45 minutes, Jack’d come up with 13 different stories about flying saucers and people meeting them; an entire series. Complete stories, telling me about the characters, the beginning, the middle, the end, the whole thing. It was just amazing.”
New comics and a lot of covers for others
The series focused on people and events affected by the monolith throughout time and space. In most issues we see an event from our distant past and through contact with the monolith this event is echoed in the distant future; a one issue time travelogue. In a latter issue, a new recurring character emerged, Mr. Machine, a machine made sentient via the monolith, who was trying to fit into a world that didn’t trust or want him; shades of Eando Binder’s Adam Link. Kirby had done something similar with the character Quasimodo in the FF. Quasi was a machine made into a sentient being by the power of the Silver Surfer. 2001 ended quietly after 10 issues—when the license with the movie ended, but Mr. Machine went on to get his own series; renamed Machine Man due to the closeness of a toy character, and he became a type of reluctant searching super-hero. This series lasted several years, even after Kirby left Marvel again. The concept survives to this day.
None of Kirby’s Marvel series really exploded, and soon there were rumblings from within the company. Some of the young upstarts started referring to Jack as Jack the Hack, or as a has-been who no longer had the magic touch, perhaps even a bit senile. There were rumors of editors salting the letter columns of Kirby’s books with negative letters. But mostly they resented Kirby’s independence; his unwillingness to work with others who wanted to write books for Kirby to illustrate. Kirby had earned this independence and he held unto it fearlessly. But Kirby’s natural optimism was dimming. His art, to many, seemed to be slipping into a parody of his style.
During the Seventies, Marvel’s management had made a complete changeover from those during the Lee/Kirby/Ditko days to a new generation absent any connection to its birth. Kirby suddenly had to work with and respond to unfamiliar people of little or no history. Scott Edelman was a new assistant editor, and he was given the job of proofreading and correcting Jack’s books. Scott remembered; “ I know there are plenty of people who loved the work Kirby did on his return to Marvel in the ’70s, but I wasn’t one of them. I can remember sitting in the Bullpen and proofing the original art for Jack’s first issue back on Captain America, and just feeling … sad. I still feel that nothing Kirby did alone could compare with the work he did Stan Lee—in my opinion, they needed each other—but looking back on how I expressed myself then, I know I came off like an ungrateful brat. And I don’t like that. After all Kirby did for us, we should have been happy to be able to read whatever he was willing to give us, whether it was up to the old days or not.” Other minor management people, like new assistant editor Ralph Macchio seemed to delight in filling Kirby’s letter columns with negative letters.
Jim Shooter, when he became the big guy, looked at this in dismay. “I cannot imagine what the people putting the letter columns together were thinking. Were they trying to be “fair and balanced,” and show that some people were disappointed with what Jack was doing? Was it that they, themselves, were disappointed with what Jack was doing and weighted the lettercols to express their POV? Putting together a negative lettercol is stupid, amateurish and/or malicious.”
“It reached a point where Kirby went to Shooter to complain. Jim recalls; “When I became EIC, again, I didn’t have time to check up on what I assumed was a no-brainer operation that no one would screw up, that is, lettercols, until Jack called me to complain about them. I’ve told that story elsewhere on the blog. It was, as I recall, the only time ever that Jack complained about anything. I felt terrible that we had let him down so badly.”
During the mid-Seventies the companies started to shift from the old newsstand distribution to a new plan called direct market system, which sold comics on a non-returnable basis. During this changeover, the companies used both as the direct sales market was trying to expand to all areas. The companies knew that selling on a non-return basis was much more profitable as it removed the returned books that had to be counted and subtracted from the print run. Yet the older newsstand system hit the whole market and still accounted for a large part of the business. This split dichotomy produced some interesting results. In some newsstand areas individual retailers would bypass the distributors and buy up the books before it reached the retailers. This hoarding caused havoc on the companies as their books weren’t reaching all markets; creating holes in the series runs. In those few cons that sprang up in larger cities, these few dealers had massive amounts of books that the common buyer could never find at the store level, and could only be bought at inflated prices. Another problem was that selling 10,000 issues on the direct market meant much more profit to the company than selling 10,000 issues at the newsstands, since they also might include 10,000 copies returned for credit. Jim Shooter talks about how this might affect specific books and artists. Jim said; “though Jack’s books did not sell well on the newsstands, because, I think, to casual readers they seemed old-fashioned and un-hip, they sold gangbusters in the nascent direct market, as well or better than the X-Men, and far more than all other titles. I remember noticing that a couple of Jack’s books were selling upwards of 30,000 copies — just about enough to break even all direct — at a time when Spider-Man, the Avengers, etc., were selling closer to 10,000 direct. “
A lot of themes for an R.E. Howard salute
In 1978, Jack was commissioned to provide an illustration for a fantasy book called Ariel-The Book of Fantasy. He provided a beautifully whimsical and creepy two–page illo for a Robert E. Howard poem called “Musings”. The drawing was light and airy—filled with fairies and other fey iconography—as well as monsters and mystics –perhaps foretelling some of Kirby’s future animation work. Ariel was a large size art book that focused on fantasy stories. The issue Jack appeared in had an evocative Barry Windsor-Smith cover. I am not sure how Kirby’s participation came about. A review of the magazine by noted Sci-Fi critiquer Tarbandu expounds.
“Ariel: The Book of Fantasy’ (1978) was one of the more unusual experiments in retail fantasy literature and art publishing in the mid-70s. There were four issues (‘volumes’) printed between 1976 and 1978.
‘Ariel’ was a large (12 “x 9 “, 80 – 100 pp), full-color magazine printed on quality paper stock, and featured illustrated fiction and comics from a number of well-known genre authors and artists. Ariel carried a steep cover price ($6.95) for the mid 70’s, which unfortunately placed it out of ready reach for the burgeoning, but young and poor, generation of SF and fantasy fans then starting to make their economic presence felt (albeit if only in a modest way). After four issues had been produced Ballantine decided to pull the plug on the magazine, and there really hasn’t been anything quite like it on the retail shelves since (perhaps a sign that this form of publication just doesn’t strike much of a chord with the US buying public).
Issue three of ‘Ariel’ (edited by Thomas Durwood) featured as its cover an arresting illustration (‘Devil’s Lake’) by the English artist Barry Windsor-Smith, who is the subject of an interview in the magazine. By 1978 Windsor-Smith had long since departed Marvel and ‘Conan’, and was making a living as a studio artist. The interview is an informative one and touches on the artist’s philosophy of the ‘New Romantic’ movement in art and illustration, and his admiration for the artists of the Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite eras.
Among the other entries in volume three is a new Elric story, ‘The Last Enchantment’, by Michael Moorcock, with illustrations by Tim Conrad; a poem by Robert E. Howard, ‘Musings’, with an illustration by Jack ‘King’ Kirby; an admirable comic adaption of Harlan Ellison’s story ‘Along the Scenic Route’ by Al Williamson; and a short story, ‘The Halls of the Frost Giants’, by Alexander Heart, with illustrations (in an Arthur Rackham style) by Michael Hague.
The quality of the reproductions appearing in the magazine is quite good, particularly when one remembers that ‘Ariel’ appeared in the pre-computer-based typesetting and printing era.”
Jack’s drawing was of two natures, like a lot of Kirby’s better work. At once optimistic and whimsical it was also foreboding and scary. Much like Howard’s work, it possesses multiple sides of human nature.
Some wonky figures but a feeling of rapture – Silver Surfer gets a flying f**k with Loni Anderson
In late 1976 a long mentioned project came up; Stan wanted to do a graphic novel with Jack of the Silver Surfer–possibly as a vehicle for a movie project. Graphic novels were new: a long form format telling one big story in a novelized package, including a hard cover and painted sleeve. Instead of monthly serials, a whole story in one thick package. The idea intrigued Jack.
Meticulous research by Greg Theakston gave us the behind the scenes skinny. The rights to the Silver Surfer had been optioned to producer Lee Kramer. The plans called for a huge budgeted production complete with Rock Opera music and staging. The story was the telling of Galactus’ and the Surfer’s contact with the Earth. Since the FF’s options were held by another company, they would be excluded. Without the FF, they needed another strong presence, preferably a female presence that could be played by Kramer’s then girlfriend, Olivia Newton-John, a beautiful singer who was transitioning into films. Kramer was a lifelong fan of the Silver Surfer, and now that he had clout in Hollywood, he wanted to go forward on the product. “Doing the Silver Surfer has always been a dream of mine and now it was going to be realized.” Kramer told a film magazine.
Kramer’s resume’ was checkered, he started out as a farmer, and an antique dealer. He had met Olivia Newton-John five years previously and had become her manager. With her, he had produced several well received TV shows, and a couple of movies like Xanadu. His Silver Surfer was scheduled for release in 1981. Olivia Newton-John proved her bankability with her appearance in Grease, the very successful movie based on the Broadway play.
With this go-ahead, Stan and Jack had a story conference and Jack got right to work. This was good for Jack as he had been falling behind on his contracted amount of pages for Marvel. (though I could not find any gap in the printed books that would cause a loss of pages) According to Greg; ”When Jack turned in the pages, they were accompanied by a fully realized plot on paper. When Lee called for his usual changes, Jack was displeased, but acted like a professional and complied. After all, a lot of money was being gambled.“
Stan Lee didn’t stand silent, Using all of his bluster and hucksterism, Stan told a magazine, “The Silver Surfer is still on the way to being a big movie. Lee Kramer, who’s going to produce it, is at this very moment in Australia and I think he’s renting the whole continent as the setting! He found a scientist in England who is working on something called linear induction. At the moment he has this linear induction worked out so it can make a surfboard go this high above the ground and really travel with a man on it. They promise me by the time the thing is filmed, they’ll get the surfboard that high. They get the camera underneath it, they paint the sky–it’ll look like he’s out in space!” Lee also said he’d be “closely involved” with the making of the movie and that the Surfer “will probably fight Galactus” in the film.”
Kramer’s relationship with Newton-John was precarious, and when it eventually broke up, the money dissolved and the production ended. Newton-John was the selling point; not Lee Kramer. All that was left to show for this effort was Kirby and Lee’s historic book to be published by major publisher Simon and Schuster. It was a success, published in both hardcover and softcover. It has since been reprinted.
At 100 pages, the art had some of Kirby’s old spark, but there were differences between Kirby’s and Stan’s ideas. One seemed to be an attempt to modernize Kirby’s formatting. Sprinkled in among the pages were bad attempts at Neal Adam’s style jagged panels. The results were jarring. Stan Lee provided some of his most pretentious dialogue in order to add grandeur to the tale. Stan wanted to add gravitas to the story. The results were laughable. Kirby compromised as well as did Stan and the finished product was fairly good, not great, but a solid piece of work from these two old war horses. Interesting to note that Kirby’s Golden girl seems more modeled after the buxom, curvaceous Loni Anderson rather than the slim svelte Olivia Newton-John; a much better choice in my mind.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
WHY DID THE FOURTH WORLD FAIL?
Actually this is somewhat of a misnomer; the Fourth World books did not fail. The characters and worlds that Jack Kirby created are still alive and ever-present in the current DC continuity, and comic reality. Darkseid is at the top of DC’s villain pantheon. Yet it is obvious that the original series did not make the immediate impression necessary for DC to continue them. So while I can’t label them a failure, they certainly weren’t a rousing success either.
Much has been made- and very little convincingly-that for some unexplained reason, Carmine Infantino undercut Kirby’s series. The suggestion is that Infantino, in some Machiavellian scheme had simply hired Jack Kirby away from Marvel with the mistaken impression that without Kirby, Marvel would fold.
How absurd! First, Carmine and Jack were longtime friends before and after Kirby’s tenure at DC. Carmine had personally sought out and hired Kirby, giving Jack an unprecedented four books to tell his tales, and DC had followed through with a huge advertising blitz spotlighting Kirby’s new books; hardly the action of an editor and company who cared not if Kirby succeeded.
As for sabotaging Marvel, Carmine was an editor; his job was to sell books, not work behind the scenes trying to undermine the competition. At the time that Kirby left Marvel he was doing two monthly books and the occasional filler strip; less than one twentieth of Marvels output, no one could imagine that his leaving Marvel would cause irreparable damage to them.
Editors have to answer to owners and bean counters; they don’t cancel books that are profitable, but they might cancel a borderline seller if they think the creator might have better sales with a different concept. Not so different from Stan Lee transferring Jim Steranko from the poor selling Agent of SHIELD, to the better selling Captain America. Carmine didn’t fire Kirby, he simply shifted him in another direction in the hopes that the next idea might be the blockbuster title he so wanted. I see no evidence that there was any personal animosity or political intrigue behind what happened to Kirby, just an editor doing what editors do–right or wrong.
Now saying this, I am intrigued that just after Kirby left DC, they began bringing back some of the Fourth World characters, more intermingled in the regular DC continuity. But I think that might have happened anyway, copyrights demand that a concept be used periodically and it’s not unusual for dormant characters to be returned to active duty for a short period and then return to the trash bin. It happened with some of Ditko’s characters created just before Kirby came to DC. Plus there was a regime change just after Kirby left and Carmine was gone and new editors took over. It’s possible that they saw the sales figures and compared to what DC was than selling, those figures looked good.
I have come to the conclusion that Kirby’s Fourth World series failed for five specific reasons; four were industry changes beyond Kirby’s and Carmine’s control, and a fifth that Kirby might have changed but it would have gutted any sense of grandeur and “epicness” from the concept.
The first reason was simple bad timing. The comic industry was caught in one of its cyclical downswings, and nowhere was this more evident than DC. DC was hemorrhaging! Stan Lee and the boys had produced a new generation of readers to whom DC had become anathema. Marvel Zombies didn’t do DC. In some ways Jack’s past success at Marvel prevented him from growing a new crop of readers. It was around this time that Marvel’s total sales eclipsed DC’s, and DC’s continued falling. DC was gasping and even Kirby couldn’t overcome the perception.
Nothing that Infantino tried since he became editor had worked; despite artistic and writing changes, many longtime series such as Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Atom had reached bottom and were jettisoned. And none of the myriad new series, despite quality work from such artists as Steve Ditko, Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson had caught on; in fact, it was rare for them to last more than 6-7 issues.
DC of the early ‘70’s was much like the comic industry of today; nothing they tried caught the public’s fancy and the editorial turmoil meant that the editors had to show immediate results or they and the series got canned. There simply was no time for a series to grow organically, steadily building a hardcore following with new readers joining with each issue. The results had to be immediate and overwhelming, so instead of new concepts, they simply retold and packaged the popular characters in new books
But to Jack’s credit, his series did last longer than most. Perhaps Kirby did have a core constituency that followed him–not large enough to guarantee success, but large enough to try to build on. Perhaps Carmine felt that with some fine tuning the series had a chance The Deadman issues of Forever People and the makeover of Mister Miracle from Apokolyptian palace intrigue into a typical super-hero strip may have been attempts to widen their appeal, especially among the many die-hard DC fans who had resisted the Kirbyization of DC.
Either way, DC of the early ‘70s was a black hole even Kirby’s cosmic light couldn’t escape; which brings us to reason #2.
When Marvel finally got out from under the yoke of DC’s distribution company in 1968, they embarked on a program of expansion that would see them go from fewer than 20 titles to over 40 in two years and upwards of 60 by the mid-Seventies; first by increasing their super-hero line, than by adding sword and sorcery and horror titles and then romance and westerns. But most of all they flooded the market with reprint titles. In a normal market this possibly would not have had any effect on Kirby’s Fourth World titles, but this wasn’t a normal market. While Marvel was expanding their line, the retail reality was that the outlets were either maintaining the same space or cutting back due to smaller profit margins, which meant that new titles had to fight for space like never before. This same thing happened after World War 2 with the easing of paper restrictions the companies glutted the stands, with the result that many new titles were returned unopened or got pushed to the side in favor of better known quantities. If one ran a mom and pop store and were faced with carrying only 50 titles from among 5-6 companies, you naturally would choose the fifty most popular, or at least well-known titles. Mister Miracle had to fight with Spider-man, FF, Batman, Superman and the other long-time favorites for decreasing space in a shrinking market. It’s no wonder that new series failed much more often than succeeded. Outside of large markets, just finding these titles was a major battle. This flooding of the market was an old stratagem of Martin Goodman’s; in fact it was his usual m.o. when he controlled his own distribution. It should have come as no surprise that as soon as he had the chance he would revert to old ways. The big change was that Marvel had become a big fish and his glutting was killing DC, the largest fish.
Reason #3 may be Martin Goodman’s final stroke of genius. As revenues from advertising declined (due to the shrinking market) the companies felt the need to raise the cover price. DC decided to jump from 15 cents all the way to 25cents, while enlarging their books with low cost reprints. Two months later Marvel followed suit making their titles a similar 25cents. But after one month, Marvel reduced the price down to 20cents and shrunk their size back down to 20 pages, giving the impression that they were reducing the price while in reality they were raising the price for a smaller package.
What this did was allow Marvel to offer a larger percent to the dealers giving the retailers more profit for the same size book, and more of an incentive to push Marvel’s titles. So not only were Kirby’s new books fighting for actual space in a shrinking market, the dealers were actively pushing the competitor’s goods for a few cent’s more an issue. Plus, the kids could get more titles for their buck; a win-win for Marvel.
This changeover happened about the time of the fourth issue of the main titles, At a time when the books were desperately looking for new readers, the retailers had another reason to either not order the books, or to minimize the amount and the prominence of the titles. The really sad part is how long it took for DC to react to this maneuver. The 25 centers lasted about nine months before they were reduced to 20 cents. By this time the Kirby titles sales had dropped as had all of DC’s books, and the writing was on the wall. Some have charged that Goodman’s ploy was sleazy, but it wasn’t Goodman’s actions, but DC’s inaction that hurt so much. Just as today, these behind the scene industry games point out just how little quality matters if the product can’t get to market, which brings us to another aspect that actually may have been the most damaging to Kirby’s series.
#4 was serious. With the huge proliferation of Marvel’s reprint books, Kirby’s new DC books were in direct competition with Kirby’s old Marvel books. From the very beginning of Jack’s DC tenure, Marvel actually had more Kirby covers and more Kirby pages published each month than did DC. So for any new or casual reader, which was still the lifeblood of the industry, the appearance was that Jack Kirby was still pumping out titles for Marvel, on popular characters, at a cheaper price. If one accepts the premise that a new generation of comic readers occurs every five years, these reprint books were just as new and topical as the Fourth World books.
For examples, let’s look at certain periods. Between Oct 1970 when Kirby’s first DC book appeared and Feb, 1971 when the New Gods and Forever People started, Marvel released 25 books with Kirby work, and 10 sporting Kirby covers, that’s 3 DC books as compared to 25 Marvel books. In the next two months, Feb. and March 1971 when New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People hit the stands, Marvel countered with 13 books and 6 covers. This makes a total of 38 books and 16 covers for Marvel as opposed to 7 new books by DC; over a 5-to-1 ration just when the new books sought to make their most dramatic impact.
August and September of 1971, when DC introduced the new 25cent format, Kirby did 4 books for DC, while Marvel released 10 books with 6 covers; over twice the output, at a lower price, and usually with well known characters as opposed to new untested and untried characters.
An esteemed editor for Marvel told me that these policies were not aimed at Kirby, and I think I agree. Of course that editor was not there when these occurred, and I think it’s possible for an objective person to look at the data and come to the opposite conclusion. Either way, the negative results for Kirby’s new books were just a sad collateral damage inflicted by the larger comic industry wars.
Let’s look at the data for the complete run of the Fourth World books.
Jimmy Olsen #133
Astonishing Tales #2 New Chamber Of Darkness #7
Amazing Adventures #3 New Fear #1 w/cover Nick Fury #16 w/cover Two Gun Kid #95 Where Creatures Roam #3 w/cover Where Monsters Dwell #6 w/cover
Amazing Adventures #4 New Avengers Annual #4 Captain America Annual #1 Fear #2 w/cover Hulk Annual $3 Mighty Marvel Western #`12 Nick Fury #17 w/cover Special Edition #1 Thor Annual #3 Tower Of Shadows #9 Where Creatures Roam #4 w/cover Where Monsters Dwell #7 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #136 Mister Miracle #1
Fantastic Four #108 New Creatures On The Loose #10 Fear #3 w/cover Marvel’s Greatest Comics #30 My Love #10 Nick Fury #18 w/cover Sgt. Fury #85 w/cover Where Creatures Roam #5 w/cover Where Monsters Dwell #8
Jimmy Olsen #137 Forever People #2 New Gods #2
Monsters On The Prowl #10 Rawhide Kid #86 Special Marvel Edition #2 X-Men #69
Mister Miracle #2
Creatures On The Loose #11 w/cover Mighty Marvel Western #13 Where Creatures Roam #6 Where Monsters Dwell #9 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #138 Forever People #3 New Gods #3
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #31 w/cover Monsters On The Prowl #11 w/cover Western Gunfighters #5 X-Men #70 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #139 Mister Miracle #3
Fear #4 w/cover Where Creatures Roam #7 w/cover Where Monsters Dwell #10 w/cover Creatures On The Loose #12 w/cover
Forever People #4 New Gods #4
Monster On The Prowl #12 w/cover Our Love Story #12 X-Men #71 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #141 Mister Miracle #4
Creatures On The Loose #13 w/cover Marvel’s Greatest Comics #32 w/cover Mighty Marvel Western #14 Rawhide Kid Special #1 Special Marvel Edition #3 w/cover Where Creatures Roam #8 w/cover Where Monsters Dwell #11
Jimmy Olsen #142 Forever People #5 New Gods #5
Monsters On The Prowl #13 Rawhide Kid #92 X-Men #72 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #143 Mister Miracle #5
Creatures On The Loose #14 w/cover Fear #5 w/cover Iron Man Annual #2 My Love #14 Two Gun Kid #101 Where Monsters Dwell #12
Jimmy Olsen #144 Forever People #6 New Gods #6
Fantastic Four Annual #9 w/cover Marvel’s Greatest Comics #33 w/cover Monsters On The Prowl #14 Thor #194 Thor Annual #4 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #145 Mister Miracle #6
Amazing Adventures #10 Avengers Annual #5 w/cover Captain America Annual #2 w/cover Creatures On The Loose #15 Hulk Annual #4 Where Monsters Dwell #13
Jimmy Olsen #146 Forever People #7 New Gods #7
Fear #6 Marvel Triple Action #1 Monster On The Prowl #15 Sgt Fury #95 Special Marvel Edition #4 w/cover
Jimmy Olsen #147 Mister Miracle #7
Beware #1 Creatures On The Loose #16 Marvel’s Greatest Comics #34 Mighty Marvel Western #16 Two Gun Kid #103 Where Monsters Dwell #14
Jimmy Olsen #148 Forever People #8 New Gods #8
Monster On The Prowl #16 Fear #7
Mister Miracle #8
Creatures On The Loose #17 Marvel Premier #2 Marvel Triple Action #2 w/cover Where Monsters Dwell #15
Forever People #9 New Gods #9
Fear #8 Marvel’s Greatest Comics #35 Monster On The Prowl #17 Marvel Triple Action #3 Special Marvel Edition #5
Mister Miracle #9 Weird Mystery Tales #1 Forbidden Tales Of Dark Mansions
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #36 Western Gunfighters #10 Where Monsters Dwell #16
Forever People #10 New Gods #10
Fear #9 Marvel Triple Action #4 Monster On The Prowl #18
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #39 Marvel’s Super Heroes #33 Western Gunfighters #12 Where Monsters Dwell #18
Not counting the last 7 issues of Mister Miracle, which veered away from the Fourth World format, we have 48 titles for DC against 106 titles for Marvel, over a 2 to 1 ratio for the life of the series.
In the months immediately prior to Kirby leaving Marvel, there were three reprint titles regularly spotlighting Kirby work; Two active (Where Creatures Roam, Where Monsters Dwell) and one on hiatus (Marvel’s Greatest Comics) Within four months of Kirby starting at DC, the number had swollen to seven. The previous three (Marvel’s Greatest Comics had restarted) , two new titles (Fear, Special Marvel Edition) and two old series downgraded to reprints (X-Men, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD) The timing coinciding with Kirby’s new releases does sound more than coincidental.
Within 6 months another two series would be retrofitted and highlight Kirby reprints. (Monsters On The Prowl, Creatures On The Loose) plus 7 super-hero Annuals (FF, Thor, Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man, and Captain America) would feature Kirby reprints with 3 sporting Kirby covers.
To new customers, those known quantities must have been preferable to chancing an unknown one. It actually got worse later in Kirby’s stay at DC. In 1973, Marvel would unleash a third wave of reprint titles including such series as Marvel Double Feature, Marvel Spectacular, SHIELD, Tomb Of Darkness, Human Torch, and Journey Into Mystery, in addition to the continuing titles such as Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Super Heroes, Special Marvel Edition, and Mighty Marvel Western, all frequently featuring Kirby covers and stories. There was never a time in Kirby’s 5 year stay at DC, that Marvel wasn’t publishing more Kirby work. This was the problem that Dick Ayers had fought about so incessantly. With reprints, the artist was basically in competition with himself, without the benefit of getting paid for one half of the work.
The fifth reason I feel the Fourth World books failed was that Kirby extended himself and his talent too far. His tale was told over four separate, yet interrelated books, forcing the buyer to spend too much. It was very hard for anyone to casually pick up an issue and understand who the characters were, where the plot was going and what was the central theme. The cast was so large and overwhelming with new characters jumping in and out at the oddest times. The books had a strange non-linear plotline, one never knew where one issue fit into the others. The idea of picking up a new book, enjoying it, and tracking down back issues was not yet plausible, so the readers needed a scorecard to keep track of what was going on previously. While in retrospect, these features highlight just how far ahead of the curve Jack was, at the time it must have been off-putting to the readers used to short self-contained stories with a small cast and no overarching interconnected plot. At a time when the casual reader was still the bread and butter of the industry, Kirby’s extended epic format was too unwieldy and sprawling. It was just too large an undertaking at that time.
Kirby’s talent as a writer has been a topic of much debate. One side claiming that Kirby’s dialogue was very weak. Some use the term stilted and awkward, saying that compared to Stan Lee’s words, Kirby’s were odd and out of place. Kirby did have his own voice, often bombastic, out of date, and in your face. Kirby lacked grace and subtlety. This continued over at Marvel where many complained bout Kirby’s voices in his later Marvel work. I personally don’t have a problem with Kirby’s dialogue—nobody says that aliens and super-heroes must sound like poetry and songbirds. My problem was that I often found Kirby’s plots and continuity lacking. He was always so full of ideas that he would include them without explanatory accompaniment and a sense of timing that made them more natural and less jarring. There was too much on the plate at times. The New Gods offered too much in too little time. Stan Lee often told Jack to spread out his ideas better and make the others more fully realized. The Black Racer is target #1 for me. A good idea perhaps that came at the wrong time.
It is interesting that later, when Kirby returned to the typical self contained, small cast adventure format with Kamandi, he would have that long running success that Infantino hoped for, but it was too little, too late. By then, Kirby felt betrayed and resentful, his epic had been cut short and while he enjoyed doing Kamandi, it was not where he had envisioned his career at DC to be.
So were they a failure? Yes and no; not everything that Kirby had hoped but more than Infantino ever dreamed. If one deems them a failure, don’t look for scapegoats or conspiracies; there aren’t any. It was a simple case of the stars being aligned against them: A new style series, at a struggling company during a shrinking market, overpowered by a shrewd competitor. It’s a wonder that the series lasted as long as it did. But as usual, Kirby left the company with a treasure trove of characters and concepts that are still in play today.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
ALLEGORY OF HIS LIFE
But what was it all about?
“There came a time when the old gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil!” New Gods #1
Thus Jack Kirby launched his most personal opus. A wonderfully evocative phrase, full of both horror, and promise, for when something ends, something new must emerge.
But just what was Jack Kirby‘s new epic about? Kirby called it a novel about “ourselves”, a visualization of modern man seen through the milieu of the fantasy artist. Utilizing the symbolism and concepts of the super hero genre, to idealize, and entertain, yet at its heart, it was a history lesson, Jack Kirby’s history. Part biography, part subjective observation, but mostly, a sly treatise of 20th Century sociopolitical history as deep and true as any written by scholars steeped in academics and PHD’s.
“The New Gods was my own attempt to create a comic book epic, and this I did. I used four books in which to do it…I filled it with a cast and creations that were highly innovative for the period, and I tried to be as creative as I could. I used the young people of the times, the times themselves became the backdrop of my stories.”
In the manner of Swift, and Twain, Kirby took an art form founded in entertainment, and low expectation, and transformed it into something unique, “graphic allegory”, in fact, I call this “Allegory of his life”.
One has to wonder, knowing Kirby’s haphazard approach to telling stories if Jack had the wherewithal to scope out a story so connectedly. His m. o. was usually one story at a time and let it come to him organically as he sits at the board. I doubt if he purposefully sat down and outlined it straight through, obviously as we are told of how Black Racer came about, he didn’t. But I do think that with the time he had before DC gave him the go ahead that Jack had a basic cohesive structure to the tale. The latter historical type issues seem to have been conceived and executed to tie things into a neater package and the back history might have been subconscious and just a part of Jack’s psyche. But it’s too intertwined to be a coincidence.
“I’ve noticed that throughout the years, each civilization had its own historical facts, its own historical legends, and its own historical ways of storytelling. I began to ask myself the question of “What were the ingredients of our own storytelling- of the storytelling we see today all about us, in the various materials that we read?” With comics as my vehicle for telling a story, I began to set down the kind of thoughts that were common to the period in which I was raised. You’ll find that the elements are mixed, but they have validity and they have the potency of truth.”
The best allegories work on many levels, the big picture, the personal picture, and as entertainment.
So what do Kirby’s opening lines have to do with his life? Jacob Kurtzberg was born in a period marked by the end of “old gods” Gone were the Czars, the Archdukes, and Kaisers, left powerless were the Kings, and Emperors, whose legacy of absolute authority had stretched for centuries. The age of the feudal gods, lording over personal territories had for all intents and purposes ended. This was Kirby’s birthright.
On a more personal level, in 1970, Jack had just ended a period highlighted by the creation of a universe populated with Gods, and gods. What better way to show the break from his personal past to a new chapter than to literally “kill the old gods”? Few were the readers who didn’t “get” the irony in this audacious beginning. The splash page of New God’s #1 echoes a page Kirby did in the Tales of Asgard stories concerning Ragnarok—the end of the gods.
The next part of Kirby’s opening tells of a…”Final moment came with the fatal release if indescribable power—which tore the home of the old gods asunder—split it in great halves”
When World War 1 ended, the socio-political landscape had been turned asunder. And from the resulting chaos, the world split into two ever-conflicting political spheres, two ideological philosophies at odds with each other. Rule by the people vs. rule by the state. Democracy vs. the ‘isms; one side led by freely elected leaders, the other by the philosophical dictators of Fascism, Communism, Nazism, and Militarism.
Some might say that my description is simplistic, maybe even jingoistic, that the differences between the two sides is far more complicated and nuanced than I make it out. I agree, but this was Kirby’s viewpoint. I don’t think he would make those types of distinctions. His was a more simplistic nature, Nazis were bad, Americans were good. Commies were bad, though he might not be able to say exactly why. He knew of the gulags, he knew of the Berlin Wall, and he knew that they were anti-religious. He didn’t need much more to make up his mind.
Personally, Kirby’s life had always been divided into two camps. Have’s vs. have nots, swells v regular Joe’s, tall v. short, boss v worker, good v evil. Why should Kirby view the larger universe any differently?
Jack Kirby, in his most dramatic fashion boiled it down to its essential. “The fatal release of indescribable power….which tore the home of the old gods asunder…split it in great halves” “In the end there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren…clean of all that had gone before” He then shows how the two new bodies evolved, one, New Genesis, into a world of light, and enlightenment. Orion calls it “a true place of peace!” where individuals are encouraged to fulfill their own destinies. The other, a demons pit called Apokolips, ruled by an iron fist, and the population, little more than worker drones in service to the state. Never has this concept been more visually powerful, than the contrast between the colorful utopia of New Genesis vis-à-vis the gray, barren, smoke belching pits of Apokolips.
“My conjecture- which is part of good storytelling, I think- still had to do with good and evil, and therefore I contrived an evil world with an evil family, and a good world with a good family.”
Did not World War 2 end in a sudden burst of light and energy, and the victors soon divide the spoils into 2 different worlds?
In Kirby’s personal life, isn’t this how Kirby described the latter years at Marvel where he was treated as one of the cogs in the corporate structure? The new owners who had no idea what he had done for the previous regime, treating him like any other artist in their service. Until in a sudden burst of energy, DC freed him from the drudgery. Didn’t he feel that his new position at DC afforded him a chance to be in control of his own creations and destiny, as compared to his time with Marvel where his creations were taken from him and controlled by the dictates of his corporate superiors? Though this may be overly dramatic, we do know that the loss of control of his characters was paramount among the reasons for Kirby leaving Marvel. Kirby’s view of Marvel had become an “us against them” situation. As an aside, unfortunately, DC was not to prove all that “free” where Kirby’s creations were concerned.
From this historical epilogue, Kirby now shows us the world of 1970,a modern world, where a warrior is sent to an unlikely planet to stop the spread of evil by the Deadly Darkseid. The planet Earth has been chosen as the “third world” upon which New Genesis and Apokolips would wage one of their skirmishes in a Cosmic cold war? In the real world, the West and East were locked in an indirect skirmish of their own, our soldiers sent to a small insignificant patch of land called Viet Nam, one in a long list of indirect battles between democracy and Communism known as the Cold War. Jack had jumped forward to a world well recognized by the readers, a battle raging not of our making, and we are helpless to end it.
Kirby, realizing he must first and foremost also tell a riveting adventure builds his suspense by hinting at what happened between the birth of these two great worlds and the cold war that exists today. By not telling it linearly, he allows all the participants little secrets and big secrets that push the tension and draw in the reader He hints at a prior conflict and some unholy maneuver that presents the parties from direct contact. When Kirby does get around to telling the story of Highfather’s and Darkseid’s rise to power, he fills in a history that was all too real for him and mankind in the Forties.
The prior war between New Genesis and Apokolips begins when a small raiding party from Apokolips, led by the Germanic Steppenwolf, attacks an unsuspecting New Genesis couple, killing the woman. We find that this attack was actually suggested by the more cunning Darkseid, in an effort to start a wider war. Did not World War 2 start when the forces of Germany attacked and captured several neighboring countries, all with the backing and connivance of the Soviet Union.
It turns out that Darkseid has actually planned the raid and the man thought killed survives. Izaya the warrior than sets his troops upon the soldiers of Steppenwolf and thus a great war is begun. This war goes back and forth as technology and counter technologies take their bloody toll. When the scientists of New Genesis create a”planet killer” bomb called the Impacter, Darkseid realizes that the continuance of the war is futile, so he asks for a truce. Izaya in horror over the destruction being caused flees into the wilderness until he comes across a great stone monolith. Izaya screams in defiance “If I am Izaya the Inheritor—what is my inheritance? And in a great blast from a fiery hand, the answer comes—The Source. Knowing further battle is futile, Izaya accepts Darkseid’s proposal of a truce.
Though not exact, the parallels between this and WW2 are easy to spot. The two sides battle to an ever increasing mutual destruction until the Allies create a planet killer of their own. After the destruction of Hiroshima, Japan sues for peace. In reality the atomic bomb did end the war with one side victorious, but history has shown that dropping the bomb was as much to signal the Soviet Union to cease aggression and hostilities as it was to defeat Japan. And in reality, the bomb only increased the Soviet will to control.
At Potsdam, the combined forces meet to carve up the remains of Europe. To settle differences between the feuding sides, a Pact is proposed where Germany would be cut up and divided between the nations. Each must give in a little to get something. Thus is achieved a shaky peace.
In Kirby’s tale, he simply changes the exchange of land into the more Biblical and literarily dramatic exchange of sons, but the result is the same; a cessation of hostilities and a promise to maintain their own secure areas. By compromising and allowing some to live under a despot so that some could live under the banner of freedom, the larger war was averted. But just as Kirby railed against Chamberlain’s acquiescence at Munich, Highfather knew that the Pact could never last. It is the nature of the despot to seek to expand their influence over the rest. It was just a matter of time before an attempt into the neutral territories would create tensions and open conflict result.
“Good and evil are always in contention, and each will forever try to cancel out the other. This lies behind the path we all tread. We live our lives out making the decisions that will clear up the dividing line between good and evil.”
This brings us back to the present day stories of the Fourth World where we see that the cold war between New Genesis and Apokolips has expanded into a neutral territory, the planet Earth. Darkseid had kidnapped some humans in the hope of finding the anti-life equation, and Orion of New Genesis is sent to stop him, and the fate of Earth is insignificant. Yet they do not face each other directly. Not unlike Korea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and other small countries caught in the philosophical war between the East and the West. One side makes a move and the other side must retaliate in an endless chess match cycle that eventually destroys the host country.
In an allegory, many times people are merely symbols of real people, events, places or concepts. This humanization gives them form and depth with which we can easily recognize and react in the manner that the author wishes us to.
“There’s got to be a variety of characters in order to make clear and evaluate your own social values. So I had my own cast.”
As was common at the time, almost any mention of a cruel dictator would raise the specter of Adolph Hitler, and Kirby’s tale was no different. Jack often spiced these stories with Nazi codewords and quotes. But Darkseid in my opinion wasn’t a Hitler. Steppenwolf was the standin for Hitler, and like Hitler died at the end of the middle war. Drakseid was much more philosophical and Machiavellian than Hitlers’ straightforward boorishness. Steppenwolf was the fist in the face, while Darkeid was the shiv in the back. He reminds me more of Joseph Stalin, and the network of Soviet duplicity, and it seems that Kirby’s references are more Soviet style despotism than Hitler’s nationalistic fervor. Hitler was trying to raise Germany, while Stalin’s evil was much more personal and ideological. Nowhere do we get the feeling that Darkseid cared one whit for Apokolips and its people, they were simply cattle for the slaughter in the service of Darkseid himself. He didn’t want land, or wealth, he wants control of the very thought process of his subjects, this strikes me as more in line with the way Kirby would view Communism. When Khrushchev said “we will bury you” he wasn’t talking militarily, he was talking from a rot emanating from our insides; the destruction not of our homes but our way of life and philosophy of freedom and independence. This is a big difference between Darkseid and Kirby’s other great megalomaniac Dr. Doom. Even Dr. Doom had a soft spot for his beloved Latveria.
“Darkseid is what we mean when we say “the powers that be”; not satanic, not merely the devil. He is what we mean when we say “them” but what we really mean is “us”. Darkseid is what happens when everybody is asleep. Darkseid catches you off guard; he isn’t reckless he is far from being a raving lunatic with his finger on the trigger. In fact, he is just the opposite. He is the perfect rational man that we put into power because we are either too lazy to pay attention or we’re too occupied to worry about such details.”
Though Jack did pepper his tales with Nazi allusions, such as comparing DeSaad’s Happyland camp to the Nazi concentration camps, the actual methods used were more similar to the mind breaking techniques used in Korea or the Soviet gulag system. The idea was to break the will and spirit more than the body.
In allegories it’s not always easy to pigeonhole every actor and point to his real life counterpart-either a person or a country or a concept. Darkseid is easy, we all recognize the bad guy and the role he plays, Kirby said think of him as “the dark side of the moon.” Good guys are sometimes more nuanced. Does Orion represent a specific country or person or concept? I don’t think so, he is clearly the hero, but he is an imperfect hero. He doesn’t represent the American way of life, his calling is more emotional than patriotic, though I do think Kirby saw America as an imperfect concept. Orion was a junkyard dog, complete with floppy ears and a snarl. He is a warrior born, not one forced by circumstance. He shares aspects with the East European freedom fighters, in that he came from a place of madness and wants to get out. His battles are internal, a rage boils in him and he can only control it thru a mechanical construct. His battle is a search for identity, to see just where he really fits in, the fight to reconcile his opposing natures without flying apart. He is one of Kirby’s more complicated characters, there are no easy answers. But his instincts are good and he knows right from wrong. Through the years many of Kirby’s heroes have been aspects of Kirby himself. Is Orion part Jack Kirby? the battler fighting to get out? Perhaps somewhat, but not so one can clearly say he is Kirby personified. Maybe he was Jack’s father.
“Orion is your old man. He was half monster and half good guy. How many scars does your old man come home with at the end of his day’s work? Orion is a reflection of that. A guy who was scarred, but wouldn’t show you.”
He does share inner rages with Jack, but from different sources. Perhaps Orion’s warrior face is Kirby trying to show the messiness of war. His way of letting people know that war can’t be prettied up and made palatable. As Robert E. Lee said “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
“The key element of my story was Orion, who left his evil world to find his true roots, which were embedded in the planet of Highfather. “….Orion went to the place he thought he belonged, and he tried to find the people to whom he really meant something” “…I believe, in every person. There comes an inner explosion which gives us the strength of ten; and nobody is prepared for that-even Darkseid.”
Orion’s constant companion was Lightray; as brash, exuberant and optimistic as Orion was sullen and dour. Lightray was Kirby’s ode to unbridled enthusiasm and hope. He had an innocent and trusting spirit. His job was to show the other side to Orion and offer another choice away from Darkseid. Darkseid hated his cheerfulness and optimism. Lightray was the angel of our better nature Lincoln espoused.
“Lightray, of course is a light-hearted character, and enjoyed life; and we see people like that every day. They cause no harm, and they devise and make use of all the wonderful diversions that lighten our lives. What they can’t find for amusement, they will create for amusement. They will not live their lives in vain; they will try to enjoy life.”
Highfather is another interesting character. First seen as the warrior king Izaya, he makes a Biblical trek into the wilderness and returns the philosophical leader with a direct connection to the well of knowledge known as the Source. The graphics are straight out of Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments. The black hair and beard now turned white and the long flowing robes and shepard’s staff of a flock leader- a Moses. The Source is shown as a flaming hand much like the one that wrote the commandments. He, more than any character, was Kirby’s vision of goodness. But he was not perfect, which reflects Kirby’s Jewish roots. The Jewish kings were always presented as good, but flawed.
“Highfather is our conception of a being who gives us our total goodness, and of course that being comes with many names, in many languages on our own earth. Highfather- the opposite of Darkseid–receives Orion, who is his own true son. Of course that heightens the situation and makes it ready for adventure.”
Does that make Highfather a rabbi? Perhaps to some extent, but I see him as more of a warrior king like David or Saul. He definitely draws from Kirby’s religious nature, but Highfather was not a weak, pacifistic Mahatma Ghandi type, no, he was more of a Jefferson, secure in the knowledge that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Highfather knew and understood war, and he didn’t flinch from his duties, and that was to send Orion into the dragons’ mouth.
“..but, as good as he is, Highfather is betrayed by his own overconfidence that peace is everlasting. Like Prime Minister Chamberlain. Highfather learns that wisdom and kindness are not always good positions to keep in the face of a mortal enemy. Highfather failed his own people because he could not conceive that Darkseid would go to war again. In his mind a pact is a pact, but to Darkseid, it is a means to accomplish an end.
I think if Highfather symbolizes any one thing, it is that man can rise above his barbarian/warrior persona and become unto a God, but it must be thru a rite of passage that leads him to faith and goodness; perhaps a little Franklin Roosevelt battling thru paralysis to become an inspirational leader. Only one person in the Fourth World saga actually had direct contact with the Source, while others, such as the evil Darkseid, and the faithless Metron were stopped from reaching the Source by a barrier. Is this Kirby’s way of saying that power and knowledge have limits and the next step can only be achieved through absolute faith? Is this not the most basic tenet of most religions? Unfortunately Highfather was never fleshed out by Kirby so he remains unfinished in my mind.
Into this dysfunctional family is thrown a fourth element, the son of Highfather given over to Darkseid to raise as his own. Scott Free is man’s eternal desire to be free. He has a love of freedom that no ideology can bend to its will. This is the power that would bring down the Berlin Wall piece by piece. This is the strength of will that all dictators know must be tamped down and destroyed if they are to hold power. His is the purity of consciousness that draws people to him, and transforms evil and doubt into purpose.
“Mister Miracle, the magician, became his own magic. He was the one Orion was traded for, and he would never be the kind of character Darkseid would ever consider an ally.”
Himon is another iconic creation; part liberator, part mentor, part revolutionary. As a liberator, he seems to mirror the brave religious underground of Central Europe who helped ferry people under the bridges and around the barb wire. He was the hope that springs from religion at its most basis level. And the fervor with which Darkseid’s troops track him remind me of the fear that faith can undo despots and tyranny. Kirby uses a similar setting when Wonderful Willik tells the lowlies that “they have cornered a worm among you.(Himon) “eating at your lives and spirit and meritorious work.” Note the connection between spirit and work and remember that Communists believed that man was fulfilled only thru work and that religion was an “opiate of the masses” that dulled their enthusiasm and destroyed free will. Kirby seemed to be reaching for a Judeo-Christian vibe in the Himon story. Himon is shown as being pacifistic in his response to attempts at executing him. He never physically fights back, he simply vanishes. When Himon takes Scott to his den the group image resembles the Last Supper of Christ, even to the point of having Kreetin (a great name) deny his allegiance to Himon- much like Peter of Christ- after Himon is captured and led away to be tried. . Is this a real intent of Kirby the Jew, or simply dramatic license? The mentor aspect is easier. Himon plays a large part in Scott Free’s life, he encourages the kids to blossom and seek their freedom, and it is Himon that shows them the path to hope. How similar in nature to how Jack Kirby described his mentor, Harry Slonaker.
“He thought that if he gave kids responsibility it would give them hope, and there was so little hope then.”. “We learned responsibility. For the first time it was in our own hands, and we learned how to deal with it.”
How similar to Himon’s last words to Scott Free. “If he leaves Apokolips, he will find the universe.” Revolutionary in that he taught the children of his coven that there was a different life available, but they would have to fight for it, and he taught them how to create the machinery needed for this fight, not of the warlord but of the mystic and dreamers as seen in Aurelie’s “mind-video” that allows her to dance and play. Himon says that “Auralie’s thoughts are beautiful! She creates beauty! Imagine doing this on a world like Apoklips. Himon knows that to defeat tyranny one must first free his or her own mind of evil ideas. John Lennon said it best “You tell me it’s the institution Well, you know, You better free you mind instead”
There is a cryptic side to Himon. Several times he bemoans the fact that he somehow created Darkseid, or at least the factors that led to his rise. “I fostered Darkseid’s power! I must be here at its end” was just one example. Kirby never showed a specific connection between the two so we can only speculate as to what he meant. I wonder if this was Kirby’s way of acknowledging that the factors that led to Communism were noble, and no one could have seen that it would be much worse than the rule of the Czars. The people who overthrew the Czar wanted freedom just as much as any other people. Was there a back story that would show that Darkseid’s family came to power when Himon and the people overthrew another evil dynasty? I don’t know.
Himon was also a wonderful foil to the cold calculating Metron, Even the physical differences where Himon is soft and cuddly vs. the icy Metron’s angular and rigid form. Metron was one of Kirby’s unemotional observer archetype, but he was more, he was science run amok. He was the fear that science was moving so fast that we could no longer control our human side. Metron was amoral- he cared not which side he was making weapons for, or what the consequences. Metron was based on the cold aloof Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project who once famously said; “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” To Metron the time to worry was after the barn door was opened. Yet Kirby was also aware that for humanity to grow, Metron’s knowledge was essential, so Highfather kept him close, and somewhat restrained. Eisenhower’s Military Industrial complex speech might be a good example of Kirby’s concern. Metron was also Jack Kirby’s unending search for answers; he always turned to Metron when highlighting the philosophical/spiritual context for the Fourth World. Robby Reed, on his essential blog “Dial B for Blog”-now at 600 posts– took this Metron as Kirby idea even further.
The Newsboy Legionnaires remind me of Jack the person, but the character who reminds me most of Jack the visionary artist is METRON of the New Gods. It might seem strange to say that — but think about it. Metron is a man who sits in a chair that can go anywhere in time and space. Isn’t that just like JACK KIRBY sitting at his drawing table, on his own private “mobius chair”?
The resemblance grows stronger if you know that Jack did a sort of prototype for Metron’s Mobius Chair in Alarming Tales #2, November 1957, in a story called “Donnegan’s Daffy Chair.” In this story, Donnegan is a janitor who borrows a “daffy” magical chair that takes him flying far beyond earth, and into outer space.
As you can see below, Donnegan is a dead ringer for young Jack Kirby, and his “daffy” chair comes complete with its own built-in mini drawing board! Metron should consider adding one to HIS chair. Or at least a seat belt.
So you see, Jack Kirby IS alot like Metron! When Jack sat on his chair, pencil in hand, he could travel anywhere and everywhere. And, as we all know, Jack Kirby not only “could” — Jack Kirby DID!
Wherever his characters went, Jack went there first in his imagination. He knew those people first. When he put them down, they had already lived, both in his imagination, AND in his own real life. Jack Kirby — THE TRUE ARTIST — used the medium of comic books to envision different periods of his life, creating new worlds each time he refined that vision.
Robby Reed’s favorite action figure
Glorious Godfrey is an enigma. We know he was based on both Billy Graham, and Arthur Godfrey. While Billy Graham was the great evangelical of the middle century, who wheedled his way into the very seats of power-a harbinger of the religious right. Godfrey was the most famous pitchman in America- the man who sold America everything from cigarettes, to shaving cream. A man trusted by the mothers of America because he had a pleasant manner and calm voice. But in reality he had a bad attitude and a penchant for firing on a short fuse. He was also accused of being anti-semitic, though it seems unfounded. Kirby had an innate fear of Christian leaders who sought political power. His view towards Christianity was similar to many elderly Jews. He loved the teachings and the philosophy that are the bedrock of Christ’s teachings, but he feared an organization that once it obtained financial and political power has been easily swayed by the current powers that be. A philosophy too easily swayed to fit into whatever mandate sought by the ruling party. Many Jews remembered how long it took for the Pope to speak out against Hitler, Mussolini, and the holocaust or how easy it was for Southern preachers to find arcane phrases in the Old Testament to buttress the rights of slave holders. Jack seemed to fear that a smooth talker with fanatical religious beliefs might come along and take control; a fear that echoes even today.
Terrible Turpin, is obvious – he is us. A common man who reaches a turning point when he says enough is enough. He is the collateral damage of wars between super powers. He is also the spirit of survival. He is the undying spirit of humanity, as much as Captain America or Sgt. York. In reality he is the fireman running upstairs as the tenants are running down the stairs; the cop on the beat who puts his life on the line everyday, or the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save his buddies. To many, Ben “Terrible” Turpin was Jack Kirby as everyman. It was Kirby who stood up to the cosmic mayhem, just as he did the Nazi’s. Bruce Timm, when animating the Fourth World in the Superman cartoons, spotlighted this idea.
TJKC: Was Ben Turpin based on Jack?
Bruce: Oh, definitely. Absolutely, it was based on Jack. That’s something DC Comics had been doing for a while anyway, using the stuff that Jack created: The Fourth World characters, Intergang, an all that stuff. They’ve really been introducing that stuff in the Superman comics recently. We thought that’s a natural; we love Jack’s stuff anyway. The Turpin character in the comics didn’t look anything like Jack but I decided it would be kind of fun, kind of a little throwaway tribute to Jack, to make the character look like Jack.
“Now no soldier in his right mind would face a battalion of Panzers (German tanks) alone; even one would be suicide, and I just said that like I myself had done it. Some people think I’m crazy, but I never did anything like that, but there were guys who did. You can read about them in history books, and that’s who Turpin is. But still, he is the essential character of all mankind, to stand up against all odds because nobody else would do that job. There’s always one who will, and when we run out of people like that, that’s when we’re all going to be in trouble.”
I should mention Superman, though not a Jack Kirby creation, Jack does involve him into the Fourth World aura. To Jack Superman was not an invulnerable do-gooder standing outside the world looking in. Superman had great powers but to Jack they made him lonely, isolated and questioning as to his rightful place in society. Jack gave him a depth no other artist/writer managed. When asked about his Superman Jack answered.
“The bottom line involves choices. Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever. Good or evil, they are bound to choose. And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us. As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose. If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be? “As a writer and an artist, I’ve drawn my answer.”
I hesitate to mention the Black Racer, but I guess I must. The hesitancy is because I have never figured out what role, what symbolism or what exactly Jack was getting at. Obviously he represents death but what aspect. In other mythical tales death played a role in separating heroes from the rest. Hela took the heroes to Valhalla while sending the rest to Hades. Judeo/Christian myths are similar with a separate heaven and hell. But Jack never shows us any reward in his tales for a valiant and glorious life, or punishment in the hereafter for the evil. Death was as random as it seems in real life. Perhaps Jack was becoming existential in his later years. His battle scenes remind me of a lyric from the Broadway Show “Civil War”.
”And the heroes and the cowards look the same when they have fallen by the gun”.
But I don’t see Jack as existential, he was an optimist, The use of a paraplegic Viet Nam Veteran as the personification of death makes me think that Black Racer was his reaction to seeing the constant rain of dying youth on our TV’s at news hour. The few times we see the Racer offers no clues as to his purpose in the tapestry. He is intriguing but I think I may agree with Mark Evanier when he told Jack that it was a good concept, but probably not at this time. Of course Kirby had his own reasons, and I’m sorry I can’t divine this one; it’s probably a good one. His costume needs to go; a Black skier in medieval armor is too much even for me.
Several players seemed to be fevered images of real people from Kirby’s life. Funky Flashman and House Roy were obvious spoofs of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, and their evil doing was hucksterism in the service of Darkseid. While some, their natures were revealed just by their names: DeSaad, Vermin Vundabar, the Justifiers, Beautiful Dreamer, Simyan and Mokkari.
From this point on it seems that the stories were observations and morality plays based on Kirby’s response to world events and social currents of change swirling around him. In the very first Jimmy Olsen story Kirby shows us a mysterious Wild Area populated by long haired mystics, and motorcycle thugs, and a wild psychedelic underground government research center conducting crazy experiments. Is this not Kirby responding to the hippies, and counter culture, and the backyard motorcyclists who bothered him incessantly and the scientific research that was changing the landscape, some for the good and sometimes not.
Kirby spends a lot of time detailing the differences in the educational facilities of both New Genesis and Apokolips. New Genesis children are shown outside in a casual almost Platonic setup with flowers and birds and a happy exchange of ideas, while those on Apokolips are shown huddled in the clutches of Granny Goodness, a sadistic warden beating the children into strict obedience and indoctrination into the ways of Darkseid. Many are the stories of the time showing experimental open classes in enlightened US schools as compared to the harsh, Soviet model where children were taken from their parents and trained for specific tasks, and indoctrinated into Communist philosophy. Kirby wasn’t always subtle, his rendition was much more graphic and terrifying, but no less obvious to its template. It should be noted that New Genesis seems more of a hippy flower power commune than a real world cityscape. Perhaps Jack bought into the love, peace and happiness claptrap somewhat. Apokolips for its template think more of the coal pits and slag heaps torn into the side of the West Virginia mountains combined with huge burn pits belching smoke and brimstone into the smog filled Ukrainian rubble.
The control of the media and by its nature the access to knowledge also gets the full Kirby treatment. The first of Darkseid’s fifth columnists was Morgan Edge, who has taken over the Daily Planet and controlled the news network. Several attempts at mind control and Manchurian Candidate style stories appear, only to be defeated by New Genesis’ agents. Kirby even takes on the right wing religious ascension by the likes of Billy Graham and right wing hucksters with characters like Glorious Godfrey and Funky Flashman. The Funky story is also a not so subtle jab at Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Instances where Jack threw in personal swipes were few but obvious.
Perhaps in response to Israel promoting the role of women in their military, Jack introduced a fighting squad of “female furies”. Led by Kirby’s most intimidating female character Big Barda, an example of East German style chemically induced Olympic athlete. Originally a fighting force for Darkseid, they switched sides and joined Mister Miracle in his battles against Darkseid’s minions. With the likes of dominating Lashina and lunatic Mad Harriet they were as nasty and as formidable as any Kirby military group ever seen. It’s a close call whether it was safer to be a friend or an adversary of this group. They bickered more that the Thing or Torch ever did. Big Barda was Nick Fury in drag, with a body by Jayne Mansfield, a face modeled after songbird Lainie Kazan, and a disposition like Alexander Karelin, she was heads and shoulders above any fighting female drawn by Jack. She was the Goddess Sif, on steroids. Amazingly she didn’t smoke a cigar. Her protectiveness of Scott Free was eerily reminiscent of Roz and her Jackson.
The real female furies of Israel
“Big Barda is the female star of the story, and a girl who is both vital and brave, and has everything we might want to find in the perfect female. I tried to create a female vision of this sort, and I think I found it in Big Barda.”
The antiwar movement received Jack’s attention, not only with the pacifistic Forever People, but in one of Kirby’s best stories. In New Gods #6 entitled the Glory Boat he presents a family broken apart because of the inability of a hawkish father and a peacenik son to unite. Thrown into an Apokoliptian nightmare, the son proves his courage and the father faces his fears in a poignant story faced by many American families with sons hiding in Canada, and thrown in jail for refusing induction into the military. Kirby fought this same battle.
Neal tells of Kirby’s feelings on the Viet Nam war:
“You’d classify him (Jack) as a liberal Democrat. During Vietnam he was very much against the whole thing; right from the start. It was no mystery to anyone in the family how he felt about it. I had some friends over, and we were all watching the draft lottery on TV. He told me. “Listen, if you draw a low number, and want to finish school in Canada we’ll support you 100%.” He didn’t want me to go at all.”
Terrible Turpin aka Jack Kirby – Playing with matches
The sadness and bravery of freedom fighters around the world bent on defying both East and West gets its due in Kirby’s best tale, “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin” from New Gods #8. It tells of a Metropolis cop who finally can’t take anymore of these two super powered foes battling it out in his town, leaving death and destruction behind them. He says enough is enough and wades in to stop the fight barehanded. Despite his being human and the enemy super powered he holds his own until the battle ends. with Turpin looking much less for wear. His bravery is never maudlin or phony, his rage is understandable and his action laudatory. For once the super powered beings realize that their fight impacts others and not in a good way. Nothing reminds me of this story as much as the photo of a lone Czech patriot standing up to a Soviet tank in the middle of a square. Is there anything more powerful than one person standing up and saying “no more”? The bracketing scenes of Orion spilling his guts to Lightray are gut wrenching and provocative.
The country was burning over a fight for equality, and Kirby had to address it head on.
The East would point to the race problem in America whenever the hypocritical West would belittle the East for the living conditions of its people. In “The Bug” from New Gods #9 Kirby presents a view of New Genesis’ racist underbelly. While the elites live on a beautiful floating city high above the planet, a lowly group of scavengers and worker bees live on the surface. They are hated by the swells in the sky. They live off the refuse from above and one of them yearns to be free and better himself. It is hard to read of Orion and other New Genesians spitting out their hatred for this race, and call for an ethnic cleansing, but Kirby needed to show that no one is 100% good or evil. New Genesis was a planet just like ours populated with people who were super in power but capable of smallness in their hearts. This may even be a nod to the internment of the American Japanese population during World War 2 (including his letterer extraordinaire Ben Oda) and the easy bigotry shown during our fight to free other people bent and broken by prejudice and bigotry. Surely Kirby’s pride as a Jew helped him out during his darkest hours in Europe.
The art ranks right at the top of Kirby’s long career. He used the whole canvas, the backgrounds and the location scenes were astonishingly dazzling. His machinery, especially in Mister Miracle was awesome to behold. His characters had mass, and depth. There doesn’t seem to be any throw-away panels, every inch is used to tell the story. Jack took a new interest in fashions, where all too often during his Marvel days Kirby would fall back on drawing fashions from the Forties, Kirby seems determined to keep these series topical and up to date. When he does do a throw back, such as Terrible Turpin, and his derby, it seems like a perfect choice for the old-school personality of the bulldog policeman. His characters had the ability to shock you, yet still remain true to their nature. In the final issue of New Gods, while Kalibak and Orion are fighting, we see Darkseid watching from afar. When he realizes that DeSaad has unfairly assisted Kalibak, Darkseid confronts him and in his anger wishes DeSaad out of existence. Is this Paternal feelings or just a semblance of fair play from deep within his evil bowels, we really don’t know. Perhaps it is simply that Darkseid can’t abide someone else playing god. That is reserved for Darkseid alone. Whatever the reason, it shows another side to his evil. Kirby explained that this new found depth came about because the story propelled him to new heights. Kirby’s background characters and figures took on greater importance and energy.
“In the New Gods, (short hand for all the titles) I became aware of the amount of detail that was important in telling the story. By detail, I mean environmental detail, background detail, the crowds, the buildings, the feeling for the times. In doing so, I found my drawings tightening. I found my drawings becoming more illustrative and better than I’d ever done them before. I have the New Gods to thank for that.”
The one overarching problem with talking about the Fourth World is that Kirby never had a chance to finish it. The Hunger Dogs, done much later seems too slapdash and cartoony to me to be of real help. It doesn’t even deal with Scott Free, and Metron and the Forever People and the fate of so many others. Could Kirby have worked out the anti-climatic fall of Communism of the Soviet Union to fit his need for a climatic ending for an adventure tale? Could he envision Darkseid acknowledging defeat due to failure of his philosophical convictions? Would Intergang, and the other thugs go underground like the Russian mafia? This is of course a weakness in making people symbols of philosophies; an individual can easily adapt and accept change, ideologies can’t.
It’s really hard to overstate the role that the immediate times played on the tapestry that Kirby was weaving. The social upheaval and the scientific changes occurring almost daily was the fodder that kept Kirby’s epic so enjoyable. It was like we were looking into some psychedelic mirror that turned and twisted the world and then broke into a thousand different shards reflecting aspects back at us. The final words on this should probably be Jack’s.
“I wouldn’t say my drawings were illustrations of any kind, but they were great comic drawings, and they fulfilled the kind of goal I was reaching for in all my years of doing comics. In doing Captain America, I’d concentrate on doing a few figures, and tell the story correctly. The figures were active; they bounced all over the page, but they needed very little background. In telling the story of the New Gods, I told an entire story. I gave the entire picture of the events which transpired. In that way, I feel I have made a giant step in dealing with my own creative ability, my own feelings for people, and my own vision of the future…. So I consider this a great accomplishment, in the field itself. It was a story that was fully rounded, with people, with backgrounds and with the satisfaction of innovation.”
“To bring this to a conclusion, I’d like to say that I felt the New Gods were our gods. They were not the gods of the medieval ages; not the Greek gods; nor the gods that came before them. The New Gods were the kind of people that made our own millennium. We live in the age of the New Gods, and the New Gods are still developing. So I felt they represented you and I, and the people we know; the people of our time. They represented the 1970’s and they’ll probably go on from there.”
I lied; the final word will be by Willie Shakespeare, who said a few words about us and gods. “What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”
Jack Kirby gave us our Gods.
But interpretation is not for me alone. Artist James Romberger wrote some words on the New Gods and its follow-up stories.
by James Romberger
from the Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, 2008
A young mind is blown, from Forever People #2
The Fourth World is Jack Kirby’s grand concept, the project in which he invested the prime of his skills as well as his highest hopes and ambitions. Kirby’s saga debuted in 1970. He hit the ground running; within a few issues his writing became more confident and he began to draw with unmatched clarity, grace and power, brought into focus by Mike Royer’s exemplary inking. Kirby put forth a very thoughtful and humane writing that helped form many of his reader’s views of the world. In this way he transcended the entertainment realm of comics to create something much more meaningful.
He filtered his own experiences with violence into a philosophy that extended across his epic, from Orion’s attempts to overcome his aggressive nature and the examination of the principles of conscientious objection in “The Glory Boat,” to Mr. Miracle and Big Barda’s rejection of their military programming. In Kirby’s comics pathos is contrasted with irony to create relief, a classical formula he used effectively. The best stories of the 4th World read as literature.
For a variety of reasons, the 4th World was cancelled by DC before the end of 1972. The loss of his developing masterpiece as he was just reaching a career peak of performance hit Kirby like a hammer blow, according to those close to him. He went on to create other significant works, but rarely again touched the glorious synthesis of story and art seen in the best of the New Gods. DC owns the characters and concepts and uses them in combination with their other corporate properties. In 1982 DC’s Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz offered Kirby creator credit and a percentage of royalties for the Fourth World for redesigning it for use in the Super Powers TV cartoons and toys, a gesture that meant a good deal to Kirby and his wife Roz. DC also offered him twenty-three pages to write and draw a conclusion to his story in the final issue of reprints of his original New Gods comics. Within the limitations he was given, Kirby produced one of his last great stories, “On the Road to Armagetto”. Unfortunately, it was rejected by DC. Kirby amended the story, and it was inked and lettered by Mike Royer. Its pages were later distributed in altered form throughout Kirby’s 1985 graphic novel, Hunger Dogs. Sadly, with DC’s recent reprinting of Hunger Dogs in their 4th World Omnibus Volume 4, that story remains unavailable to be read as he intended.
For his conclusion, Kirby chose to focus on something meaningful that was possible to bring to succinct resolution. One of the most significant themes present in Kirby’s complex, interwoven plotting in the 4th World is that he absorbed the aspirations of the psychedelic movement, and recast it in his own image. In 1970 Kirby was aware that a key demographic for his work was the college-age kids that had embraced his Marvel work. He created characters for DC that were geared to and reflected that market. The first of Kirby’s new comics completed on his board was The Forever People #1. The dreams of the flower children had been occluded by Charlie Manson and Altamont the year before but you couldn’t tell from the optimism Kirby invested in his super-freaks.
The Forever People is about a small unit of young New Gods who join their planet’s war, but deal with crises using technology, compassion and their individual skills. The Forever People as superheroes are an idealized version of what hippies should be: calm, gentle and intelligent. In cases where they are unable to cope, they join to form the Infinity Man, an entity of indeterminate power and personality, however, this device was diminished as Kirby progressed. Simultaneously, Kirby took over a staid DC title, Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. Square Jimmy suddenly seemed truly young, hurtling at breakneck speed into Kirby’s ominous interzone of psycho-cosmic warfare. Kirby came up with many inventive ideas from the world around him, distilled from current events, hit films, and scientific magazines. He explored the then-nascent science of genetics with his “DNA Project,” a U.S. Government operation that could endlessly generate the types of imaginative Jimmy mutations the title was notorious for, and also created “The Hairies,” a commune of technologically advanced “DNAlien” clone hippies who travel a tunnel complex called the “Zoomway,” in a dragon-decorated missile carrier known as “The Mountain of Judgment.”
The Hairies’ Mountain of Judgement, 1970
Kirby’s hippie characters may have been inspired by the real-life pioneering exponents of psychedelia, the Merry Pranksters. This may be supported by the fact that the Pranksters were, like the Hairies, the result of a Government experiment. Prankster founders Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Ken Babbs, and Stewart Brand (later editor of the Whole Earth Catalog) all attended Stamford University in the late 1950s and there participated in tests of LSD by MK-ULTRA, a long-running mind-control program overseen by scientists under the wing of the CIA. Kesey and his fellow subjects were so impressed by their experiences on acid that they became advocate distributors of the drug and facilitated the rapid spread of psychedelic culture. They believed that LSD could change the world. They threw the earliest public Acid Test parties in San Francisco in collaboration with the Grateful Dead. The Pranksters’ acid-proselytizing tour of America on their psychedelic bus “Further” was reported by Tom Wolfe in stream-of-consciousness style in his famed 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Kirby’s Thor on Acid Test flyer, and the Merry Prankster’s bus Further, 1966
Kirby’s work figures into the Prankster’s saga: Wolfe writes that Kesey is frequently consumed in reading Marvel Comics, and a Kirby drawing of Thor is prominent in a Prankster poster for an 1965 Acid Test. Kirby is one of the most important psychedelic artists of that era. It has rarely been suggested that Kirby took LSD himself, but his combinations of solid spatial and figurative composition with abstract technorganic design in the eidetic pageantry of comics like Thor bear up under scrutiny magnificently whilst tripping. Kirby’s assistant at the time, Steve Sherman, laughingly said that Jack’s young staff “gave him lots of pot” (The Jack Kirby Collector #6). When interviewed, Kirby cautioned about drug experimentation: “I believe that any sort of stimulant or irritant used for any sort of motivation…it’s kind of a wild thing without guidelines…I won’t hang anyone up on a gallows who uses drugs, but I won’t respect them, either” (TJKC #42). For his family-friendly DC comics, Kirby’s cosmic consciousness catalyst is not LSD but the Mother Box, a technological link to “the ultimate mystery, The Source” that must be built, and its wisdom earned, by its bearer. Mind-expanding effects are also exhibited by Forever People member Serafin’s Cosmic Cartridges, all of which have properties relating to “all there is.”
The Forever People’s driver is Big Bear, who resembles aspects of both Kesey and Neal Cassady, the Beat legend who joined the Pranksters as navigator. Another key Prankster figure, Cassady’s friend Carolyn Adams, known as “Mountain Girl,” has a 4th World equivalent in the Daisy May-outfitted Beautiful Dreamer. The magic bus “Further” can be seen reflected in The Mountain of Judgment of the nomadic Hairies. Jimmy Olsen witnesses several manifestations of the Acid Test music-lightshow multimedia events in the Hairies’ dance concerts and projections, one of which (Jimmy Olsen #134, p.12) incorporates a Kirby collage cut from photos of Jimi Hendrix that appeared in Life magazine (issue dated 10/03/1969). The Hairies are allied with the motorcycle gang the Outsiders, who might have reflected the Prankster’s brief involvement with the Hell’s Angels, but were also acknowledged by Jack as referencing the bikers who frequently ripped up the canyon below the Kirbys’ California home. In the end, Kirby’s characters are melds of many different sources, and even if Kesey’s crew were not a direct inspiration, Kirby’s origin for the Hairies mirrors the Pranksters’ covert genesis.
Kirby’s original series deliberately left many of the boundaries between his heroes and villains ambiguous. The Pact that secured the truce between Apokolips and New Genesis that would be broken by Scott Free and precipitate the events in Kirby’s storyline is itself a cold business: Highfather traded sons with Darkseid. Family values are strangely inversed in the 4th World. All along, Darkseid seems very concerned with the fate of his son, Orion, but strangely, Highfather seems disinterested in the concerns of his progeny, Scott Free aka Mister Miracle, who is raised in the hellish orphanage on Apokolips. The youngest of the New Gods is Esak; he appears to be at most nine years old. He does not seem to have parents, and is allowed to roam space and time as apprentice to the amoral scientist Metron in New Gods #4. In one of his other few appearances in the original comics in FP #7, Esak must beseech Highfather to save the Forever People; it is one of Jack’s gentlest scenes.
The clear view of Esak, from Forever People #7
But, Darkseid allows the Forever People to escape repeatedly, saying, “Greatness does not come from killing the young” (FP #8). When the hammer came, Kirby exiled the Forever People to a distant, verdant world and left the seemingly inevitable final battle between Darkseid and Orion hanging. Shorn of Jack’s fire, Mister Miracle limped to his belated wedding with Big Barda, presided over by a noncommittal Highfather. There was no acknowledgement of unresolved traumas such as Scott Free’s sacrifice for the sake of peace. Kirby was already elsewhere.
When in 1983 Jack was asked by DC to complete his saga in one chapter, he looked at what he had done more than a decade before and, out of all possibilities, chose the theme of the betrayal of ideals to close out his saga. The overriding theme that he saw in the New Gods tapestry is that he had hoped and believed that the young could and would tackle the evils of their day with ingenuity and compassion. As the promise of the sixties faded, these aspirations were not borne out. He watched expanded consciousness give way to drug addiction, sexual and racial equality slow in coming, wars beget more wars, the environment steadily worsen because of individual and corporate greed and exponential population growth. America was sliding through the Reagan Years. Jack’s initial, thoughtful response was a short allegory that left the mystery of his unfinished epic intact, but that condemned, with little equivocation, the failure of the generation in whom he had invested his hope.
Kirby did some of his best late-period art for “On the Road to Armagetto.” By this time Jack no longer drew supple, idealized figures; his characters seem compressed, reflecting his own physical aging, but for all that his drawing is no less vigorous. Despite the cartooniness Jack was veering towards, due in part to his most recent animation design efforts, there is none of Kirby’s usual humor in this piece. It’s dead serious. Kirby’s blackspotting becomes abstract and patterned, and the open outside borders create a vignette effect, as if the entire story is a nightmare. And truly, as much is hidden as is revealed in this oddly cinematic fever dream. In Jack’s finale, the enraged Orion is only seen in flashes as he infiltrates Apokolips’ capital Armagetto and incites the slum-dwelling Lowlies to revolution.
Darkseid watches his WMD experiments, postures, mugs, and spars with Himon. An obviously significant but out-of-panel character responsible for Micro-Mark nano-bombs is revealed to be a horribly disfigured, swollen-headed Esak. Metron has deserted the child for years to study in solitude. After an accident mutilates the boy, he is thoroughly corrupted and goes over to work for Darkseid. As the mob approaches, Darkseid turns tail and escapes, leaving Esak to face the killing machine Orion. Esak attempts to murder Orion’s posse, then testifies to his misfortunes
The Lowlies rise, from On the Road to Armagetto, 1982
Esak’s fall, from On the Road to Armagetto, 1982
The story Kirby originally submitted ended with the splash on page 23 of Orion on top of a pile of corpses, shooting the off-image Esak. This is Jack’s “holocaust borne on flowers”, his answer to the “nature vs. nurture” questions he had brought up with his DNA Project and the Pact. Orion’s upbringing is completely negated by his Apokoliptic genetic baggage. The flower children do not save the world, perhaps because New Genesis doesn’t care about or keep track of its children. This was intended to be Jack’s final word, then: a fatalistic burst of ultraviolence more akin to Sam Peckinpah and the Druillet books that he admired.
No doubt Kirby felt it was his prerogative to finish his epic in his own way. Over a long career he had proved time and time again that his ideas and instincts were sound. His problems occurred when he was being second-guessed. Still, after DC rejected the story, a second denial of his New Gods, Kirby persevered. The “piece of the action for redesign” deal DC gave him was unprecedented, so he did what he could to satisfy their wishes. The story mutated into an intro to Hunger Dogs. He added two moving pages wherein Orion regains his senses and absolves Esak, mitigating the darkness somewhat. The “child, fallen upon cruel days” grew away from the Source, but is forgiven. Orion witnesses the Source do a cosmetic makeover of Esak’s ravaged husk, saying, “Judge him as he was, not as he became.”
On one level Kirby apparently came to grips with his disappointment with the Hippie generation, on another, with the interruption of his opus. On yet another level he is still defiant, in effect disclaiming to the reader all of the presumptions made on his characters by others, and perhaps even what was to follow in the adulterated Hunger Dogs. The final printed graphic novel has its own merits, but reflects much interference with Kirby’s creative process. “On the Road to Armagetto” is Jack Kirby’s dark codetta to the New Gods, an apotheosis of unending conflict.”
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
BRAND NEW WORLD
By 1970, thousands of Americans were actively protesting the Vietnam War. There were numerous reasons why these protests took place. Some of the prominent ones included revelations that former President Lyndon Baines Johnson had misled the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam in late 1964. The ending of college deferments, which previously had exempted most college students from the draft and service in Vietnam, further contributed to the protests. On April 30, 1970 President Nixon announced that the war was spreading into Cambodia, a neighbor of Viet Nam. America erupted. Colleges across the country staged a strike and shut down campuses, streets, traffic and commerce. On May 5, a stunned nation watched in horror as a small, and fearful band of National Guardsmen opened fire on a large group of boisterous and threatening group of coeds at Kent State University. For 13 seconds they fired round after round, and when the smoke cleared, four young Americans lay dead, dozens wounded and a nation staggered. Ten days later two more Americans were killed at Jackson State.
Moment of horror
On April 10, 1970, the music, and counter cultural world was staggered when Paul McCartney announced that after a yearlong period of dissension he was leaving the Beatles due to undisclosed “personal, business and musical differences.” The greatest songwriting team in history had come to an end. John was mad because he wanted to announce the split first, but had been talked out of it. His reaction to Paul’s announcement was “Shit, Paul’s a bloody f**king great PR man—maybe the best ever–to tie it into his own album’s release.” I think Jack might disagree with John as he considered Stan Lee the best PR man ever.
All good things must end – The new team
And like a rifle shot to the gut, Kirby’s defection likewise staggered the collected comic universe. Fanzines and comic conventions were ablaze with speculation as to Marvel’s continued success without Kirby. The comic creating team that dominated the Sixties had parted in discord. Kirby’s move to Los Angeles took awhile to settle out. After initially landing south in the land of Mickey Mouse, Jack soon moved north of the city to a place on Sapra Rd. The worst problem was the house was high on a hill, and below the house was an open area where motorcyclists practiced their sport. Despite numerous complaints from the hard-pressed Kirby’s, the owner refused to stop the noise. In his own way Kirby worked these motorcyclists into his tableau. The cycle riding Outsiders of the Wild Area were based on his abusive neighbors.
Jack and Roz finally moved pot, pans and drawing table to a new home in Thousand Oaks on Lynn Rd, high on the hills overlooking the valley to one side and the ocean on the other. Kirby loved the swimming pool. Despite the distance, fans and assorted kooks found their way to spend time with their king. Lisa would joke that “if Charles Manson came calling, Jack would let him in.” It was at this house that Jack, Mark, Steve, Neal, and Mike would hatch their schemes and act out their wild stories.
New Gods prototypes – New Gods #1
John Romita worried about the continuation of Marvel Comics. He thought Marvel might go under sans Kirby. “Kirby was doing more than artwork: he was bringing all sorts of things to the table. He was bringing characters, plots and inspiration to Stan. He was making Stan ten times a better writer and there’s no way to limit what you could give a guy like Jack. I would have given him whatever he wanted, but businessmen don’t see things that way.” Unknown at the time, Jack asked John Romita to join him at DC. John pondered the question, but when he asked his wife, she told him that if he went, he would always be in the shadow of Jack Kirby. John chose to remain with Stan Lee and not surprisingly was always viewed as Stan Lee’s lackey. John Buscema was more direct; “I’ll never forget when I walked into Stan’s office and heard that Jack left. I thought they were going to close up! (laughter) As far as I was concerned, Jack was the backbone of Marvel. John offered up another amazing anecdote of Kirby; “Well, Jack Kirby was very fast. Martin Goodman was upset that Jack Kirby was making so much money. He felt, “Kirby’s turning out so much work, let’s cut his rate.” That’s when Jack left Marvel and went over to DC.” Sounds like the logic of a bean counter.
The falling sales figures were scaring Martin Goodman. None of the new titles were catching on. Roy Thomas told Stan that he had received mail from readers asking for a sword and sorcery genre book. Nothing else was selling so Stan told Roy to write up a proposal for Martin Goodman to read. First, in the back of a horror title they threw in a sword and sorcery trial story. The story was written by Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith. Smith had returned to England due to his visa problem. Yet Marvel still sent him scripts to keep active. Goodman gave Thomas the ok on a new series and told him to get the rights to a property as cheaply as possible. After being disappointed with several properties, the rights to Robert Howard’s Conan practically fell into his lap. Goodman’s fear of the new title made it so that Thomas could not have his first choice of artists due to their high page rate. Thomas had wanted John Buscema, but ended up getting Barry Smith due to his being at the bottom of the page rate scale. Barry was put right to work on the new title. Coincidently, the first issue hit the stands the same month as Jack Kirby’s new titles at DC. Despite some poor initial sales, they stuck with it until it became Marvel’s sole success story of the early 1970’s. Its success did nothing to stem the loss from the other titles. Marvel continued down the hole of failure.
Jack Kirby roots to neo-romantic classicism – Barry became Windsor-Smith
Barry Smith was still living in Great Britain; working on his papers to return to the U.S. He found out about Kirby leaving Marvel from his friend Roy Thomas. It began; “There’s no way to say this but straight: Jack Kirby has left Marvel.” “Jack’s departure was cataclysmic to Stan and Marvel as a publishing entity. It affected me in no way whatsoever, I just wished him well. As to being treated fairly by the company that he co created, I’m not privy to the internal goings on that existed between Jack and Marvel management, but I would hazard a guess that if Jack was less of a romantic and more of a business man, he could have had anything he wanted from Marvel at the time that Jack felt the urge to split the “House of Ideas”. It’s a pretty good shot that Jack could have written his own ticket. But then again, if Kirby had more of a head for business, he probably wouldn’t have been the genius artist we have all benefited from. There’s a tragedy of some considerable proportion right there, Know what I mean?”
The failure in this case was not Kirby’s lack of business sense, in fact, with the facts we have Kirby made all the right moves. He used the little leverage he had and came out with the better contract. The failure was Marvels. The new management and some of the old failed to realize the real set-up and chose Stan Lee as architect rather than who many would consider the actual architect—Jack Kirby. They ended up with a new leader who could provide nothing to make a company grow, while Kirby continued his history of providing his employer with salable concepts. I have had people tell me that Marvel managed just fine after Kirby left. All I can say s that they should look at the sales charts and realize that for the next 8 years Marvel would flail about approaching bankruptcy. While the ten years earlier, while Kirby was there, the sales were a consistent rise to prominence.
Jack was busy organizing his characters and concepts for his new series. His first move was to contact Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman. After explaining that he was moving to DC where he would be in charge of a series of comics and he said he wanted them to be his assistants. They quickly agreed though they had no idea of how they could assist Kirby–but they certainly wanted to be a part of it. They also hoped their friend Mike Royer could be a part of Kirby’s new venture. Mike Royer remembers; “A few hours later I got a call from Jack saying he’d just landed at LAX and he wanted me to know that he had switched to DC, and that he wanted me to ink the books but they had to control them back East. So he couldn’t designate who he wanted to ink for him.”
Wally Wood learned of Kirby’s defection and hurriedly went to Carmine. He asked if he could be the new inker but DC stuck by their guns and stayed with Vince Colletta.
Alan Kupperberg was a production man in DC’s studio when Woody came to see Carmine. “When word first ricocheted around the business that Jack Kirby had decamped for DC Comics in 1970, Woody contacted DC publisher Carmine Infantino and virtually begged for the Kirby assignment. If I recall correctly, Wood even offered to take a cut in his page-rate. Carmine declined. I assume DC sought a continuity of the “Marvel Style”, in Colletta. Plus, garrulous Vinnie was always “there,” in the DC office. Woody was withdrawn, almost a hermit and, probably unfairly, not always considered reliable with deadlines.”
This would allow New York the final say as to what was published. . DC’s brass wanted Kirby to take over an ongoing series so that Kirby’s magic might be quickly integrated with the DC Universe. Kirby’s response was to ask for a series without a steady artist so that he wouldn’t deprive a fellow artist of work. This was resolved when the artist on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was assigned to another strip. Kirby had pleaded with Carmine to create a series of books based on his concepts, and guided by Kirby, but drawn by various artists such as Don Heck, John Romita and Steve Ditko. Carmine had hired Kirby so that Kirby’s art would be seen under the DC brand. Carmine, probably considering the additional cost of more artists quickly put the kibosh on that idea. It was decided that Kirby’s new concepts would be broken into four separate but interconnected series, drawn and written by Kirby and published bi-monthly.
Jack was ready to start up at DC Comics, but some house cleaning first had to be done, When Carmine Infantino announced to DC’s editorial staff that Jack Kirby was joining their ranks, the response was not all positive. Here’s Carmine’s recollection;
“I inform Mort Weisinger he has a new artist/writer on JIMMY OLSEN and it’s Jack Kirby. Well, the fact that I just acquired Marvel’s hottest talent didn’t impress him. All he could think about was that Kirby had sued his friend Schiff, and that Kirby should still be blacklisted from DC. Mort went to Irwin Donenfeld to complain. Donenfeld called me in and I really had to go to bat for Jack. I told Donenfeld I wasn’t interested in personality problems; I was only interested in business. Donenfeld said okay and that was the end of the discussion”.
With that distraction out of the way they now had to decide just what Kirby would do.
shape of things to come
DC’s publicity dept. went into overdrive. In large bold heading’s the phrase KIRBY IS COMING adorned their regular books for months. No mention of the new titles, just the name to build up the suspense or sometimes just a premise. The uninitiated probably thought Kirby was a new character being introduced, but those in the know had no doubts what was coming. Kirby had become a brand unto himself, no “and Simon or Lee” to share the credits and accolades. Kirby’s newfound solo status also meant that Kirby was now responsible for all facets–no Joe Simon to help rein in Kirby’s intensity and wildness, and no Stan Lee to wrap Kirby’s concepts in pithy dialogue and pop sensibilities. For good or worse, the public would now see pure unadulterated Jack Kirby. Autuerism was forced on Jack.
Jon B. Cooke, a noted Kirby expert put it mildly:
“What is important is that Kirby arrived at DC Comics with guns a’blazin’, his imagination unleashed as never before. If we thought his mid-Fantastic Fourrun was fertile — and it was one of the most creatively productive eras in comics history — we were still unprepared for the awe that was yet to come… Darkseid, Super-War, the Anti-Life Equation, Infinity Man, Scott Free, Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, the Pact, Himon, Bug, Kalibak, Glory Boat…”
To which, I would add, Whiz Wagon, DNAliens, Intergang, Dubbilex, and Bugs, ad infinitum.
Over at Marvel, Stan Lee wasn’t taking Kirby’s defection quietly. Kirby’s penchant for leaving lots of inventory meant that Marvel would have Kirby stories to print for at least 5-6 months. It would be several months before new artists would be needed for the Fantastic Four, and Thor. Plus Kirby had drawn the first couple stories for new series featuring The Inhumans, and Kazar, several horror stories for the horror anthologies, and the last Silver Surfer issue. In fact, Fantastic Four #102 was the last Marvel story drawn by Kirby and it wouldn’t see publication for 5 months. Fantastic Four #103 had been drawn by Kirby, but Stan reconfigured the whole story and it was printed at a later date with extra pages to connect the cut and pasted story. Martin Goodman had instituted a new round of reprint titles. Rare would be the months when Kirby’s new titles had a larger newsstand presence than Marvel’s reprint books meaning that the average reader would see more Kirby art by Marvel than by DC at the retail level. Right or wrong, Kirby was at war with himself. But it should be noted that Marvel’s sales started to plummet.
With the release of Jimmy Olsen #133 cover dated Oct. 1970 the readers got their first look at pure Kirby, and it didn’t disappoint. The cover let it be known this wasn’t your father’s Jimmy Olsen. There’s Jimmy riding a motorcycle with a bunch of hairy bikers and running over Superman while Jimmy’s yelling “RUN HIM DOWN! Superman was so important that he was featured front and center on almost all Olsen covers. Kirby’s name proudly displayed at the top of the covers. On the first page, Kirby let the reader know that his past and future are one. We get Jimmy walking into a secret garage amazed to meet the famous 1940’s era Newsboy Legion who are working on a huge souped up vehicle. Now it turns out these are the children of the original Newsboy Legion, but it’s obvious the Kirby was bringing the wacky with him. Could the Guardian be far behind? No. in a burst of creativity one of the underground research facilities was perfecting cloning, and the first person cloned was none other than policeman Jim Harper, with a slightly larger moniker.
Kirby begins in the past
He wears flippers why????
Perhaps more interesting is that Jack added in a new member to the Newsboy Legion. In a time well known for inclusionary actions—such as every sitcom having at least one black character–Jack Kirby integrated his decades long group by adding in Walter Johnson, a young black kid as a full member. But Walter wasn’t quite ordinary, or playing with a full deck. He was obsessed with scuba diving and deep sea exploration to the point that he dressed-even on dry land– in an outlandish scuba diving outfit, huge flippers and a large mask perched on his head–and went by the nickname of Flipper Dipper. (Flippa Dippa) What Jack did was take that outlandish picture of Cleavon Little in the play Scuba Duba, and retrofit it into a crazy young boy working and playing with the Newsboy Legion. Jack never seemed to throw away a visually arresting idea. I have never really understood just what role Jack expected for the new character as he was never a lead character in the story arcs. He remained just a filler character meant to show tolerance and inclusion rather than a full-bodied A-list part of the group.
Flippa Dippa at work, He didn’t do much, but he did it well except explosives expert
I think the same can be said for all the other black characters found in the Fourth World. Vykin-the Black, Shiloh and even the Black Racer never had roles or even story arcs that played up their “blackness”, yet I don’t feel them as tokens. They did their parts and participated in the tales. Flippa was never all that important, but he was as important as Big Words, or Tommy. Scrapper seems to have been the only real standout in the Newsboy Legion. Perhaps it is to Kirby’s credit that he never made their blackness a part of the series. They were accepted as equals –though minor- by everyone. To Kirby black characters were as normal as Asian (Sonny Sumo) Indian (Wyatt Wingfoot) dwarfs (Oberon) or any other minority, yet he never made a spectacle or pointed fingers at their differences. They had become just another element to his tableau, a little color perhaps, but regular Joe’s. The face of villainy was all its own. He was an indifferent species-neither black nor white, Eastern or Western, evil stood alone, just hard and nasty. Jack did make an important issue of race, and prejudice, but it was at the expense of a totally new race living on New Genesis called “the Bugs” and kept down by the supposedly superior race of super-beings led by Highfather. –Kirby’s nod to the curse of America. For the rest of Jack’s career, he managed to always fit in black characters into his bigger stories. From the Falcon, to Black Panther, Big Masai, and Major Klavus, Jack’s world was multi-cultural. (of course one could say it was multi-special also as he used many anthropomorphic characters as well)
Starts out with a bang and a laugh
Oh relevancy!!! Has ever a good word been so abused in mainstream media? Whenever journalists, or reporters try to explain the evolution of comics they always spout that the newer comics have become relevant—a reflection of the more complicated ways of real life, and acknowledging the dirty underbelly. It’s not that they are wrong, but they always back up their assumptions by pointing out mega-steroidal hulks or hyper-pneumatic women that fly and are invulnerable, while wearing underwear and cut-out tops. As if that’s reality. On May 2, 1971 an article appeared in the prestigious New Yorker magazine dealing with the new depth and relevancy of comic books, written by Saul Braun. While spotlighting a harrowing Joe Kubert-drawn Sgt. Rock story and Stan Lee’s battle with the censor board for a Spider-Man arc, and O’Neill’s and Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow tales, it also interviews Jack and talks about the New Gods. The article was poorly titled “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant.” I think Jack liked the spotlight, but Jack wasn’t overwhelmed with comics taking on deep problems. He thought they lacked the space and timing to do it right. Graphic Novels were not around yet.
A decision was made to introduce Kirby’s new series in Showcase Comics. Cover artwork was even readied. Kirby objected because it would make it seem like this was a try out series, rather than a 100% full confidence project. Carmine relented. Kirby began unleashing his new books from scratch, rather than an insert in an existing series. The early issues of Jimmy Olsen would introduce Jack’s larger tableau. It seems that Jimmy has uncovered evidence of Earth becoming a pawn in a larger war between two distant worlds. Jimmy and the Legion and the Guardian would take the fight to aliens working underground to sabotage the world. In the background running the show was the ominous Darkseid (dark-side) from the planet Apokolips, who was infiltrating Earth to
Stan in full hairsuit regalia – shades of My Lai a year earlier
find what he called the anti-life equation. With this formula, he was hoping to be able to enslave the universe with its mind control ability. As a subplot Jimmy has uncovered a secret military research base which is working on top secret projects alongside aliens and other assorted weirdoes. Jimmy Olsen threw out more concepts per page than any other comic in history. Kirby’s mind was in overload and Kirby’s kitchen sink attitude made for an amazing journey. Don Rickles the legendary insult comedian even made a cameo appearance. Jack must have been laughing his tuckus off while drawing this series, and we were the hockey pucks.
A video world pre-MTV
Trouble arose almost immediately, when the DC office received the first Jimmy Olsen pages someone remarked that the faces of Superman and Jimmy looked like Jack Kirby drew them and this wouldn’t do. The public was used to seeing Supes and Jimmy in a certain manner and that couldn’t change. Their first idea was to have Vinnie Colletta, the inker make them on model, but were dissatisfied with his version so they had longtime regular Al Plastino redraw the figures. Thereafter others like Murphy Anderson or even Neal Adams would make the corrections. Jack was furious, why hire him if they don’t want him to do his style. But this wasn’t aimed specifically at Jack; other DC artists had their figures changed for the same reason–to keep a character on model. While at Marvel, Stan had Wally Wood draw the Daredevil figures in an issue of Fantastic Four, and Jim Steranko drew Nick Fury’s head in a Captain America issue. John Romita would often ghost Spider-man in issues he was guesting in. Though the practice was accepted as standard procedure, Jack didn’t like it. With hindsight it doesn’t appear that Kirby’s version were way off line, the characters seem perfectly identifiable, but image was everything back then and Kirby had to accept it. To the readers it must have seemed strange with Kirby’s hard bulky forceful images next to the soft, cheeky old style Superman. Jack learned early that a change in location didn’t mean an end to outside editorial interference. It should also be mentioned that DC expanded the Fourth World into Lois Lane’s series.
The first new series to hit the stands were New Gods, and The Forever People, followed a month later by Mister Miracle. All played important roles in fleshing out the cosmic war that was taking place, but each came from a different angle. The New Gods represented the frontal, direct battle between the two worlds that chose Earth as its battlefield. The New Gods starred the dark brooding Orion, raised on the peaceful world of New Genesis, but tasked by their leader Highfather with the fearful role of the warrior who must take the fight directly to Darkseid.
Forever People #1 redrawn Superman – Carmine Infantino editor
But Orion lives a secret that will affect everything. Orion is of two natures, the gentle scion of New Genesis, and a horrible unmanageable beast given to berserker type rages while in battle. This dichotomy is controlled by his “mother box”; a small computer like machine that becomes literally a part and presence with the person who owns it. Orion is often partnered up with the personable Lightray whose bright personality stands in stark contrast to Orion’s dark warlike traits.
The Forever People were a group of young kids who decided that they wanted to sit this war out. They decided to stay above the fray much like a large sector of American youth decided to sit the Viet Nam War out. But unfortunately, Darkseid wouldn’t let them. The series also featured what I thought was a huge contradiction. These children of peaceful coexistence could meld into a singular entity with a bad disposition and ass kicking attitude. It always seemed silly to on the one hand to show conscientious dissenters suddenly morph into a militaristic personality to wrap up the villains. Was this secretly Jack saying that peaceful methods don’t work, and brute force will always trump evil when peace fails? Interestingly, this character The Infinity Man disappeared after just a few issues. Jack did have plans for this group, but I think he lost his way.
Mister Miracle Lightray and Big Barda round out the New Gods
“I had a black man, Vykin the Black and he was part of the epic. I filled it with the people of the Sixties, and I called them the Forever People, because they seemed like Forever People to me. They were a new step, a new social event in the epic of America. The Forever People were the young people of their time; beautiful, active, highly intelligent and wonderful material for stories, I used the young people of the times; the times themselves became the backdrop of my stories.”
It seemed that one of the kids, Beautiful Dreamer, had a connection to the anti-life formula and Darkseid wanted it. Chasing Darkseid and Beautiful Dreamer to Earth, the group makes a rude and noisy landing that attracts the attention of Darkseid’s minions, plus those of Jimmy Olsen and Superman. Superman catches up to the group just as Darkseid’s underlings attack the group.
Aid comes with the help of Superman and a guardian entity that is formed when the group members touch a mother box and call out “TARRU” This entity known as the Infinity Man is stronger even than Superman and he easily dispatches the villainous monsters. Yet Superman has caught a glimpse through a Boom Tube of a far off world known as Supertown, and wonders if he has a past connection with it.
Kirbytech borders – a happy group
When he requests a doorway to Supertown the kids try to talk him out of going, they tell him that the coming battle will be on Earth and he is needed there. Yet he is determined to go. So the group opens a “boom tube” –a portal across dimensions and Superman enters, but as he nears his destination his doubts take over and he realizes that he can’t abandon Earth, and he returns. Jack’s Superman was one of doubt, and questions. He was sort of a stranger in his own land. He was truly an alien in search of his own history. This short synopsis can’t even begin to relate all the crazy concepts that Jack packed into these stories, but they were never ending and breath taking. All these characters from the two warring worlds had super powers. Despite their attempts at pacifistic avoidance of the war, the Forever People were constantly drawn in and forced to choose sides.
The third book, Mister Miracle revolves around one Scott Free. Born in freedom, yet raised in Apokoliptian slavery, he dreams of escaping from that horror world to a place he can live in peace. This book mirrors the many refugees from Communist countries who faced death to escape to the West. The book opens with Scott actually escaping to Earth, where he meets up with an itinerant entertainer who magically escapes from imprisonments of all kinds. Much like Harry Houdini, this man challenges death daily, and miraculously escapes. But Darkseid is never happy about losing a disciple and he continually attempts to trap Scott Free and return him to Apokolips. When the elderly magician is killed, Scott Free takes up the mantle of Mister Miracle the great escape artist and using his “mother box” he starts his own show where he escapes from the most mind dazzling collection of death dealing devises ever seen, while also escaping from the crazy traps that Darkseid and his underlings set for him.
Steranko – man of many talents
It was not a coincidence that this character was inspired by young Jim Steranko who once had a stage show where he escaped from manacles, and chains and other imprisonments. In a private New York dinner, Jack teased Jim Steranko about what he had started. A surprised Steranko was shocked when a DC editor showed him the proofs of Mister Miracle and informed Jim that Scott Free was indeed Jim Steranko.
“Mister Miracle would have to join Orion in his battle to forever rid themselves of Darkseid in some way.” “Oddly enough, it was Darkseid, the most evil of the characters that brought the others together. It was Darkseid’s dealings with all of them that became the manner in which I could demonstrate how we all deal with evil. I made it as realistic as possible, and the reader could identify with the characters. The book itself blossomed into many others, and became an epic in itself for years.” Good guys usually triumph over bad guys. Bad guys, no matter how clever they are, operate outside our laws. Sooner or later, they must make a mistake that will bring them in contention with that law, and then they will fail.” Jack told an interviewer.
Jack Kirby’s Ricky and Lucy – It wasn’t always love and roses
The four books intersected, but rarely connected directly, the main connections were that Darkseid was the common villain and the search for the anti-life equation concerned them all. There was never anything like this done prior to Kirby’s effort. Kirby had a vision for this series as having a definite conclusion rather than an on-going endless series of books. There would be a reckoning. More important, Jack had added passion and justification to his palette.
Rock hard and nasty – fully articulated
Just after Kirby started the Fourth World series, his son Neal graduated from Syracuse with a Business Degree. He moved back to California and brought with him his young wife. Neal and Steve and Mark hit it off immediately. After the debacle at Marvelmania had ended, they were still excited about the possibility of marketing items relating to Jack’s art. Over the dinner table they decided on putting together a portfolio of Jack’s art through the years, plus add in a simple biography. The result was Kirby Unleashed. It featured many examples of Jack’s early art, most of which had never been seen by the public before. Plus it had rejected pages, and production pages from recent series, and a preview of Jack’s new New Gods books. With a biography by Mark Evanier, and the graphic work by Steve Sherman.
Neal did the marketing under the business name Communicators Unlimited. It was a well packaged product that did well at first, and eventually made a little money. It wasn’t perfect, there are mistakes in the bio, and the art choices are questionable at times, but it is and was a great introductory item to the world of Jack Kirby.
They followed this up with another portfolio called The Gods, which represented the Norse Gods in a different way than the Marvel versions. These were inked by Don Heck and colored by Jack. Jack mistakenly claimed credit for inking when he misunderstood a question by Greg Theakston and confused inking with the coloring—since the colors are called inks.
New versions of old characters
With the two portfolios in hand plus other small items they had made up, they attended a Comic Convention in New York. The convention gave them a private room and they opened for business. Neal said they were amazed, the stuff was flying off the shelves. They thought they had struck it rich.
Working at DC had its stodgy side—one called it an almost mausoleum in its efficiency, but there was one item that always woke them up. Alan Kupperberg was a utility man helping out in inking, and production chores. He remembers;
“… normally, only two events in the staid course of the DC universe would, like a giant rogue comet or invading singularity, disturb the magisterial and usually unalterably eternal orbits at DC Comics. The arrival of a new Joe Kubert Tarzan book; and the other JK– Jack Kirby’s — latest “special delivery.” Even hardened and cynical long time production department grunts Morris Waldinger and Joe Letterese would join the gaggle and goggle in appreciation as each new Fourth World episode unfolded.”
“Funky Flashman absolutely made waves the moment it arrived in the office. If my memory serves me, within a day or so of its arrival, a certain Houseroy had paid an undercover visit to DC and had a chuckle reading this now “infamous” tale.”
But all was not love and kisses at DC. Along with Jack’s new forcefulness on inkers, he also started making demands of the colorists. DC’s coloring crew had worked with a strict independence, and the choices had been left up to Jack Adler and his crew such as Jerry Serpe, etc. But Kirby had his own ideas about coloring that had evolved over the years as he had occasionally provided color guides for selected covers. There had been a huge dustup when Mister Miracle #1 was printed with the wrong colors for the uniforms. This resulted in a heated battle over the phone between Jack and Jack Adler. Perhaps Jack’s demands had been ended with an “I am the editor and what I say goes” type of statement. Jack Adler was a nice guy, but did not take interference well. Jack’s insistence and interference with Adler reached the point that Adler called him an “egotist” –though probably not the correct term Adler was looking for. Jack’s demands were not made from ego but from his own artistic vision. It wasn’t Kirby pushing his auteurness, it was the director looking at all techniques and processes. He wanted a better, perhaps more personal product, not more acclaim. Adler was somewhat contentious and possessive about the coloring aspect and hated artists interfering with his realm. Good thing he never worked with Jim Steranko who wanted 100% control of the process.
“Wonderful, funny, patient Jack Adler ran DC’s coloring department, among his other duties. When Tommy Nicoletti, Jerry Serpe or Paul Reinman would deliver the color guides for a Kirby book, Adler would review it, as he did all their efforts. Adler would often “throw” a YRB2 (red brown) or a YBR2 (dark green) into a panel behind a three-quarter character close-up with an open background. A touch as small as this would invariably make an already sizzling Kirby page pop like a firecracker.”
Kirby started to collect a small group of admirers who came to visit often at the Kirby casa. Like moths, this group of young men was drawn into Kirby’s flame. Among this group was a budding artist named Dave Stevens and his best friend Scott Shaw. Dave grew up loving dinosaurs and spaceships and drawing them on anything. He would hang around Jack, and while the others would pester Jack about office politics, and company ways, and the latest story, Dave peppered him with questions about art materials, and tools, and the nuts and bolts of creating comic art. Jack began mentoring Dave and encouraging his work. Dave would proudly show Jack the things he was working on—such as toy designs, appliances, and other sundry items. Jack boasted that he should be doing commercial art for magazines, but Dave protested that he wanted to do sequential art like Jack.
Mark Evanier recalled seeing Dave at Kirby’s:
“Dave was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life…and the most gifted. Our first encounter was at Jack Kirby’s house around 1971 when he came to visit and show Jack some of his work. As I said, Kirby was very encouraging and he urged Dave not to try and draw like anyone else but to follow his own passions. This was advice Dave took to heart, which probably explains why he took so long with every drawing. They were rarely just jobs to Dave. Most of the time, what emerged from his drawing board or easel was a deeply personal effort. He was truly in love with every beautiful woman he drew, at least insofar as the paper versions were concerned.” (Dave was married once…for six months to the prolific movie actress Brinke Stevens-another Bettie Page look-a-like– and she retained his last name after they divorced.)
Dave’s career wandered into another area when he began doing work for movies, such as storyboards and some design stuff. He also picked up some animation work with Doug Wildey and would join the Wildeys and Kirbys at social functions. Russ Manning gave Dave some work on Tarzan. But his favorite was the few times he would ink Jack’s cartoons for the San Diego Comic-Con. Dave often sat with Jack at the con and marveled at Kirby’s patience. When asked what he remembered most about Jack, Dave said; “ (His greatest lesson) was probably about being gracious to fans; to people who really impose, and don’t go away and don’t have a clue—and yet Jack would always take the time, and he was never rude to anybody. He treated them all with respect.”
Kirby had some other ideas he wanted to try. He was interested in breaking out of the 20 page, small pamphlet mode and expand into larger magazine sized books where he could have more freedom to make the stories more adult. Since the comic code authority had no control over other magazines, the artists had the ability to venture into more adult territory. Warren Publishing was having success with Eerie, Creepy and other mags. Even Marvel had ventured in with a couple Spider-Man magazines. Other publishers stuck their toes in also. Jack proposed a handful of concepts from which two were given the go ahead. The first to see print was titled “In The Days of the Mob”, where once again Jack would venture into depression era crime. The stories were eerily reminiscent of his Crestwood books like Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty. The second book returned Kirby to his horror days as Spirit World retread Jack’s Black Magic and Strange World of Your Dreams. The books were published by Hampshire House, a small imprint of DC and received a very low distribution and virtually no visibility on the stands and died after one issue each. It has been speculated that DC had no real desire to see these books succeed and made sure of the low distribution. Their chosen genres certainly ran against the current graphic tide. Horror and Crime had both lost their lustre.
The books were very well done and the art was superb Kirby, but the subject matter and themes were purely old school– been there done that–and really offered nothing new or exciting to the readers. For wanting to hit a more mature audience, the actual content was Ivory Snow pure.
In The Days of the Mob splash, no loss of dynamics – Spirit World eerie and atmospheric
Kirby had produced stories for a second horror issue and with the cancellation; they turned up in several of DC’s horror titles. Several other concepts such as Soul Love, an African American centered romance book, and True Divorce Cases were rejected as unsellable by the company. There was even a pitch for a magazine tentatively titled Uncle Carmine’s Fat City Comix – a sort of underground/ Rolling Stone / National Lampoon pop culture rag. It also was aborted.
Unpublished attempt at more risque adult fare – Was Kirby responding to Jane Fonda?
NASA was planning a huge step in man’s cosmic exploration. With the launch of Pioneer 10, we would be leaving our small solar system. Man was going to worlds unseen. A science writer named Eric Burgess came up with an idea that Pioneer should carry a message to any alien intelligence that might come across the spaceship. He approached Carl Sagan, a fellow scientist and writer, who had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea. Sagan was enthusiastic about the idea of sending a message with the Pioneer spacecraft. NASA agreed to the plan and gave him three weeks to prepare a message. Together with Frank Drake, the founder of SETI, he designed the plaque, and the artwork was prepared by Sagan’s then-wife Linda Salzman Sagan. The first plaque was launched with Pioneer 10 on March 2, 1972, and a second followed with Pioneer 11 on April 5, 1973.
The design of the plaque was not unanimously accepted, and The Los Angeles Times ran an article asking other notable artists and writers for their preferred version of the plaque. Among those asked were Peter Max, and underground artists Victor Moscoso and Robert Williams, Virgil Partch and Brit Allen Jones. Jack Kirby was one of those asked. In a Sunday supplement called West Magazine, dated Sept. 10, 1972 they published the results. Jack’s submission showed a man and woman as colorful happy super beings. Kirby wasn’t thrilled that such an important concept was left to just a few individuals, instead of a national debate. He explained that he was wary of sending any information about humanity. His fear was, as he put it, “who would come knocking, the trader, or the tiger?” So it was better to show man as capable of defending itself.
Kirby Kolors watch out tiger!
Early on all the DC books were inked by veteran Vince Colletta. Colletta came out of the Alex Raymond school of romance illustrating and he was known for a very fine line and scratchy textured feel to his inks. His specialty was texture, he wanted the readers to fell the difference between cloth, and leather, or fur or skin—he gave each its own technique—that’s why his work on Thor, with its naturalism seemed so successful. He had been inking and drawing romance books, and then Thor for years at Marvel. Many readers felt that this was the wrong style for inking over Kirby.
Vince the Prince
Kirby had reached an impressionistic style full of hard slashing lines and expressionistic squiggles and bold backgrounds full of dynamic bursts of energy named Kirby krackle. Truth be told, Jack had long since stopped worrying about texture, it seemed all materials were treated the same way. It didn’t matter if the person was wearing a natural material or a metallic suit, Jack drew folds, or sinew the same way—hard slashing squiggly lines that dissected the body. It was left up to the inker to decide whether or not to differentiate between skin, material or metal. Colletta’s lightweight inks never seemed to capture the full dynamics of Kirby’s boldness. Colletta also had a maddening habit of erasing background characters and simplifying architecture by turning Kirby’s magnificently ornate architecture into little square grids and checkerboard facades. He also would simplify faces and make all the women look the same; beautiful, but plastic. But Vince was not without talent and fans—chief among them the editors –who often called on Colletta and his band of merry inkers when jobs were behind schedule.
Mark Evanier, and Sherman would look at the stats and compare then to Kirby’s originals and blanch at the changes Vince made. They would show them to Jack and campaign for Jack to fire Colletta. Jack was wary, he hated that type of confrontation and the thought of taking food out of a fellow artists’ mouth reviled him. But finally he had enough and made a visit to New York and confronted Colletta. Vince made it clear that he wasn’t changing his operation of coached associates for anyone, and perhaps Jack should simplify his pencils so that an inker could do them faster. The outraged Kirby went into the DC offices and demanded of Carmine that he replace Colletta with Mike Royer, the inker he had met in California. Carmine commiserated with Jack, but Colletta was a very valuable inker. He was the inker that the editors turned to when they were behind schedule, as Colletta and his team could do a whole book over a weekend. A compromise was reached; Colletta would remain on Jimmy Olsen, the in-house book while Royer was given the other three titles.
The results were so dramatically different–like night and day. But the response was mixed. Many people loved the softness and textures that Vinnie added, while others wanted the full abstractness of Kirby’s new style. The initial reaction was negative, and in one of the few arguments between Kirby and Evanier, Jack blew up and blamed him for the response since he was the one who pushed for Royer as a replacement. His anger soon passed; personally Jack was thrilled with Royer. Having the inker so close allowed Kirby to make sure that what was inked was what he drew, it also meant less art changes from New York. One time Royer prettied up the face of Big Barda; a female warrior that Jack drew solidly. When Jack saw the pretty face he immediately cut it out and redrew the face he wanted, scolding Mike and telling him never to change anything. Royer understood and is considered the inker most true to Kirby’s pencil. Unfortunately, Mike was not the most fluid inker at the time and his early works seem messy and overwrought. The demand to never change anything meant that little mistakes and bad perspectives that more mature and competent inkers would have corrected remain in Mike’s inks. Over time Mike improved drastically to where his precision almost rivaled Joe Sinnott.
Greg Theakston’s second edition – deluxe death defiers redux
Yet it should be noted that the early 70’s saw the introduction of a new breed of pencilers, with a style of exquisite illustration. These artists such as Mike Ploog, Bernie Wrightson, Jeff Jones, and others grabbed the attention and superb cartoonists like Kirby, or Ditko and Beck suffered with the young buyers. The change in styles made Kirby seem old and outdated. In the fans eye, Jack Kirby was becoming passe; a victim of time and tide. Some pros took to unfavorably comparing him to the then hot Neal Adams, and saying Jack was the past while Neal was the future. (It should be mentioned that Neal Adams, while unique never had a successful run on any given comic, while Kirby never failed. Neal drew pretty pictures, Jack told stories.)
But Jack had his fans. Carmine once admitted; “The kids at Yale think Kirby’s new books are more tuned in to them than any other media. They’re reading transcripts from NEW GODS over their radio station. The Kirby books are a conscious attempt to show what things look like when you’re out where the kids are. The colleges, the influence of the drug culture. We’re showing them basically what they’re seeing. We’re tuning in to what they’re experiencing.”
It is interesting that at this time Jack Kirby finally became picky about his inkers. Inking has always been a part of the process. But Jack always figured that his ability as a penciler was so strong that an inker could not destroy his meaning. His many inkers over the years had many styles and techniques that they added to Jack’s drawings. Whether it was Joe Simon’s dark and scratchy hay, or Al Williamson’s beautiful light airy illustrative flourishes, or Wally Wood’s dramatic shadow/sheen, it seems Jack’s stories shone through. At Marvel, Stan paired Jack up with a varied crew of fellows and told them to add their personalities to Jack’s pencils and make the finished product collaboration. To Stan, the inkers were as important as the penciler to the final product, so a Dick Ayers added a roughhewn organic line, while a Steve Ditko made everything dark and creepy, a Vince Colletta softened and texturized as Joe Sinnott hardened, and intensified the work with clear, hard, shiny lines. None of these were wrong, though some might say that Colletta’s softness was not what Jack drew. It should be emphasized that for most of Jack’s career, the inkers were chosen by the editors; they were controlled and judged by the editor, not the penciler. Their job was to prepare the work for coloring and printing, not to impress Jack. Later in life Kirby worried about inking, and coloring, and preferred those that followed more precisely what he drew. He wanted trueness, not added personality. So we see him going more to Mike Royer or Berry. Jack had earned this right though some may claim that the product lacked style and personality that came from inking flourishes. Did not the FF look better under a Joe Sinnott rather than a George Roussos? In fact, Jack Kirby actually took little flourishes from the inkers to make his work look better. These arguments will continue for all times. And the answers will always be subjective–purely dependent on the individual’s preference. But inking does have some fundamentals that all the inkers depended on. Artist, friend and occasional Kirby inker, Greg Theakston explained in an article in Amazing Heroes #100. Titled “A Look at Technique”, Greg tried to explain what an inker needed to do over Jack Kirby; he used a drawing of a god, Heimdall, done by Kirby and Don Heck in the late 60’s as a guide.
“As a basic rule, the inking is broken into three strokes.
1) “Holding lines”- Heavy lines that define the overall shape, with accents to move the eye, and at the same time, strengthen the form. To see the holding lines, squint at the drawing. (Chic Stone used the heaviest holding lines, they have been called coloring book drawings because the lines were so distinct – Colletta’s may have been the finest. – ST)
2) Decorative lines- Medium lines that define secondary shapes on a major form, or lines that decorate the major form. (such as costume lines and muscles)
3) Detail work- Fine line-work used on important intricate forms; also used as textures. (note scales on tights, detail work can be heavy where the detail is more prominent)
What amazes me is the weight of the “holding lines” on the legs, hip, and cape. How many of today’s inkers/artists would dare to use such a line? It is heavy but not crude, and it also manipulates our eye back to the head. The blacks are spotted in the cape, and really push the figure forward (called spotting- it really refers to mass blacks of any shape that can be used to highlight and direct the action) Rather than black spots, Heck has given the shadows a fur texture. All the fur work leads your eye to the warriors head.
The shadow work on the right leg is very strong, and adds extra support to the lower leg. Well-spotted blacks within give an object strength and support. (make the leg appear strong enough to carry the figures weight)
The composition is the “big O” helped by the cape, stripes on shoes, outer axe blade, strap, and up to the head.” – Greg Theakston
While I might agree or disagree with some of what Greg put forth, I think he captured the main points. ( I tend to put less weight on the “leading” role Greg thinks is so important, I might also have talked about the role of cross-hatching as opposed to feathering, or blocking as an inking choice for shadows) Inkers must constantly choose the weight and thickness of their lines to help shape the character for proper coloring. The inkers must also decide how to interpret the pencilers gray areas. An inker like Colletta would always choose to make shadows soft and shapely rather than Royer’s choice of solid black areas. The important thing, as Gil Kane and John Romita noted was that Jack supplied all of those answers, the inkers job was to follow Jack’s choices, not add in their own personal choices. Jack wanted someone to follow his suggestions, not come up with their own. Basically, it’s a philosophical question. Is the inker a facilitator or an equal partner in drawing this picture? It’s a question that for most of Jack’s career he didn’t care the answer, but as he got older, he considered inkers as facilitators-just part of the printing process, not the thinking process. Jack would explain that all the storytelling choices were made before the drawing even starts, after that, it’s all process.
Mike Royer gave Jack what he wanted- some bad, extraneous and sketchy lines and all. To many people, they would have preferred seeing some of Mike’s style and personality also. Stepping out of the authorial role, my preference has always been the collaborative method where the inker is considered an equal person in the process- give me a Wally Wood, or Joe Simon over an aper anytime. It is interesting that at an even later time, Jack allowed Mike Thibodeaux to ink. Mike always added in his patented circular, florid lines to the drawing. He couldn’t ink without adding his personality to the mix.
More Kirby art and Green Arrow plays along
In the early Seventies, Mattel , the toy company came up with a series of comic related puzzle games. They would feature the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, and Superman. Alex Toth was scheduled to supply the graphics, but when he couldn’t do them he recommended his California neighbor Jack Kirby. The art was classic Kirby doing three characters that he had never really done previous, except for a few panels of Superman in the Jimmy Olsen comic. Mike Royer inked the drawings and on Superman they once again had the head redrawn by Murphy Anderson. One of the Superman drawings appears to be Superman on Super Town. What an amazing chance to see Kirby on Tarzan, and Lone Ranger. There had been other chances where Kirby might have done classic pulp, and radio characters, but this was one of the few times to actually materialize.
Impostor heads and an early Devil Dinosaur
Another interesting commission came from Pro! Magazine– an in-house magazine for the NFL. Kirby was asked to do two drawings of a cosmically charged futuristic football game. These magnificent works of art also feature Kirby’s unique color palette. The art is surreal, and garish, and futuristic.
Kirby throwing the bomb
In most lives, especially that of a freelance artist, there are those strange projects that come along and for a period take up ones time and creativity, and then quietly disappear for reasons of their own. The little work product created gets thrown into the dead drawer where it sits until many years later, an inquisitive family member comes along and reopens that long lost drawer. In 1971, American International pictures released a horror movie called the Abominable Dr. Phibes, a scary, slimy gothic horror film of revenge—notable only for the scene chewing vitality of Vincent Price, and the Phantom of the Opera rip-offs. It was a modest film of no real repute, but it managed to make the studio some money so a follow up was ordered. The second film released in 1972 was called The Rise of Dr. Phibes, where Price reprises his role of the horribly scarred Dr. seeking revenge on those who killed his wife. Most of the writing was by William Goldstein, though the second feature was bastardized by other writers. This sequel also made money and Goldstein tried to sell the premise for a TV show.
Jack Kirby was hired to produce some presentation art for the show to be called The Sinister Dr. Phibes. Only one sheet exists and that was found years later by Jeremy Kirby going through his granddads things. Jeremy speculated that it was a possible presentation piece for the movie which would put it circa 1971.
Vincent Price under the mask
Historian William Maynard places it after the second movie for a re-named TV pitch which would place it in 1972-73 which seems more likely given the name change. The piece was partially inked and lettered, most likely by Mike Royer who had taken over most of Kirby’s inking by this time, plus the lettering and logo design match up to Royer’s pattern. The piece was never finished as it most likely was shelved in mid-production-much like a later Prisoner series. It’s not known if this was a for gratis piece or if he was paid for his participation though short lived.
Later, another artist, Jay Stephens, after seeing the rough sketch finished the work; he re-did the title back to the original blood dripping movie title and formatted it to the Kirby style of the early 70’s. He added some muted coloring and produced a very nice sample of quasi-Kirby art. The corner accents are not something Kirby would have done—his decorative bits were more geometric and technical. I do like how the new artist re-used the black cloud letter background behind the new art in a more muted color. The new inker was very faithful to Jack’s original pencils and he captured the creepiness of the characters-though I wish the mask was more Vincent Price-like, and the added teeth to the monster weren’t necessary. Placing Jack’s name in a circle was something Jack did often in the early 70’s. All the details of how this piece came about will probably never be known, but it is an interesting look into the often crazy world of the freelance commercial artist. Hopefully other one-off pieces will show up and help fill in the magical career of Jack Kirby.
The initial sales returns for the Fourth World books were encouraging. It seemed that many a Marvel Zombie crossed over into enemy territory. It’s been reported that the first issue of Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen set a new company record for most improved sales from one issue to the next. Unfortunately the sales did not continue to impress; they slowly slid southward. Some of the problem was DC’s. They got into a price pissing match with Marvel and got burned. Their higher pricing caused a great drop in the whole DC line and almost cost Infantino his job.(similar to what happened to Dell) Other problems might have been Jack’s, such as never giving a new reader a comfortable place to jump in at, and not giving the characters back stories and histories. (I’ll talk about this in more detail later)
In 1972, a small toy company leased the rights from both DC and Marvel to create a new line of action figures. Mego Corp. was a little known company that had offered an 8 inch fully poseable doll named Action Jackson. The toy made no ripple in the market, but Mego was convinced by a merchandiser that the body cast could be used on a new line of super-heroes. They paid $50,000 for the rights to 4 DC comic characters and released them in 1973 to much acclaim. Batman, Superman, Robin and Aquaman were a whopping success. Mego quickly acquired the rights to several Marvel characters. Spider-Man and Captain America appeared later in 1973 using Jack Kirby art on the advertising.
The next couple years would see the addition of more old DC and Marvel characters such as Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the Fantastic Four-many using Kirby’s artwork on their packaging. This series title World’s Greatest Super–Heroes became a marketing miracle that catapulted the company to the height of toy companies. The quality of the sculpting and the costuming was top rate and the packaging was colorful and eye-catching. They added to their line with a series of banks, and play sets, and accessories. The action figure became a staple of the toy industry. Despite the great fees, the artists never saw a penny. At the same time Marvel was using Kirby art to sell their merchandise, they released a series of hard backed books telling the history of Marvel Comics with the claim that all the characters were created by Stan Lee. If any mention of Jack Kirby was made it was as the lucky artist chosen by Stan to illustrate his characters. Jack Kirby was officially a non-person- as the cash registers rang upward. Kirby angrily took his copy and tore out all the text by Stan Lee. Roy Thomas commented; “I think once Jack left, there was a natural tendency to mentally downgrade his contributions, just from a practical viewpoint. Otherwise you’re giving a competitor credit. I won’t say how much of that was conscious and how much was unconscious, but it’s a natural tendency. At that stage, you’re doing it for hype, for publicity purposes and to do that, you don’t necessarily play up the guy who quits and gone to the competition.” It seems sad that DC did nothing to push Kirby’s new concepts, while Marvel kept regurgitating unaccredited, Kirby’s old characters and art. An Orion among the Mego figures would have been staggering.
I think DC told Jack his sales were slipping, and Jack responded by trying to make the books more dramatic. He attempted a cinematic technique that made the introduction of the stories jump out with dynamics. It has been called the opening triptych. The splash page is a beautifully rendered introduction to the hero in a dramatic fashion. Page two and three become a fabulous two-page splash that introduces the locale and wild environment that the hero is caught up in. These wide angle shots are simply beyond the pale; full of movement, details, and drama that immediately pulls the readers in. The quiet but dramatic opening splash page erupts into a maelstrom of action as all hell breaks loose. I can’t think of any other artist who has so confidently and imaginatively given us a peek into their nightmare visions. Jack actually used this on a couple Marvel books but increased use of this technique on and off for the next 5-6 years. These two page splashes leave no corner untouched as Kirby fills the whole page with action.
Kirby opening triptych – see the hero – see the hero in deep shit dramatic detail
Around the time of the seventh issues, there appears to have been an editorial decision to make a change in focus. In New Gods #7 Kirby presented the back-story for the whole cataclysmic civil war taking place. He showed how the two worlds had always been at war until a pact was made between Darkseid and Highfather of New Genesis. This peace pact was sealed by a trading of the two offspring. Thus Orion was actually born of Apokolips, and Scott Free was originally of New Genesis. The great secret of Orion’s personality dichotomy was revealed, and Scott Free’s ingrained desire for freedom was revealed. Over in Mister Miracle, Kirby gave us Scott Free’s life as a child on Apokolips, taught by the sadistic Granny Goodness, trained to be a military man and shown the light by Himon, the leader of the underground freedom movement and quite the escape artist himself.
Takes us back to the beginning
In Forever People, they decided to bring in another long time DC character to try to draw in the longtime DC fans that were still resisting Kirby’s magic. In 1967, DC had originated a new character named Deadman. He was a circus performer killed in action by an unknown assailant with a hook for a hand (Borrowed from the TV’s Fugitive) He was reanimated as a ghost by an occult being and quested with finding his murderer. Although created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, it would become recognized as a vehicle for Neal Adams’ dramatic art. Deadman became a fan favorite immediately winning Alley awards as best new strip and character. Despite its impressive art, the character failed to find public acceptance and soon was dropped as a series. But the editors constantly tried to find avenues to showcase this character. In 1972 the editors asked Jack Kirby to throw him into the Fourth World. Jack was not happy, but he relented and Mark Evanier used a quirk in Deadman’s history as a means to work him into Jack’s epic. But Jack had no knowledge of this character and asked for help.
Alan Kupperberg was Johnny on the spot:
“Deadman was to make his appearance in the Forever People and word came back to DC via Jack’s New York liaison, E. Nelson Bridwell, that Jack needed Deadman art and story reference. Being, at that time, the buttinsky of ALL time, my ears opened wide. “
“I volunteered to loan Jack my own personal collection of Strange Adventures. Off they went to California. And you’d better believe I got them back in pristine shape and in a timely manner. And you’d better believe I’ve still got them.”
“Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool Superman fan, I’d long dreamt of a Kirby Superman. So I was as disappointed as everyone else when DC had artists Al Plastino and then Murphy Anderson, bring the famous Kryptonian physiognomy into line with the DC house style. Sometimes Superman’s face was “whited-out” with Sno-Pake and Vinnie Colletta’s work was re-inked. Sometimes the inked face was pasted over. Sometimes it was literally cut out of the page and patched in. Sometimes Vinnie left the face uninked and it was passed on to Anderson. Murphy regularly worked in the tiny, airless room DC set aside for freelancers use. Why ever and whatever way they were accomplished, I still feel these alterations were a sad mutilation.”
“In that same cramped room I watched Neal Adams as he inked, among others, the Don Rickles cover of Jimmy Olsen #141. I also marveled as Neal did his own covers for the book, and his glee in having a crack at his conception of “being” Kirby on the cover of Jimmy Olsen #148.”
“After business hours, Adams would often invade the deserted production room and pore over the latest Kirby originals, professing awe at the King’s raw power and artistic versitility.” Adam’s would exclaim. “I get overwhelmed at seeing that gutsy, ballsy thing, (Kirby’s iconography) I want to do that but I can’t.”
It seemed that none of the attempts helped and sales continued to decline. Some have hinted that it wasn’t so much as sales declining but the failure to reach good sell thru of the print runs. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since print runs are easily reduced when called for. If an issue sells regularly at the 300K level than readjust your print run from 400K down 325K and you suddenly have a profitable print run. Publishers are always adjusting print runs as sales rise or decline. Sometimes a small sell through is evidence of an over-optimistic print run.
Whatever the true reason, Kirby was taken off Jimmy Olsen soon, New Gods and Forever People were canceled with issue #11. Mister Miracle was changed from a piece of a large intermingling jigsaw puzzle to a typical super-hero title and continued for another year and a half. But this didn’t mean the end of Kirby at DC. As one series was canceled, he immediately produced another. Carmine wasn’t anti-Kirby, he was anti-Fourth World, he was looking for a breakout series from Kirby.
Kirby was devastated, he had given his all on these books, and couldn’t understand how they could have failed. There were rumors of DC editorial intrusions and back stage shenanigans that killed the books despite decent if not great sales. Kirby was afraid that Carmine was reverting back to his pattern of cancelling titles at first sign of bad sales. It was well known that Carmine was on a short leash, and Kirby thought he was jumping the gun. No matter what the actual figures, they were no threat to Marvel’s dominance. Rumors and articles in some fanzines actually claimed Kirby was leaving. In reality, Kirby had thoughts of jumping ship, but he had a contract.
Book writers Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones have another theory on the collapse of the Fourth World books and Jack response.
From The Comic Book Heroes (1985 Crown Publishers)
“Sometimes, perhaps, Kirby’s imagination went a little too far out (especially in Jimmy Olson, where vampires, Scottish Sea Serpents, and even comedian Don Rickles traipsed through the pages) ; but even then, all of his work blazed with the unmistakable Kirby verve. The Fourth World provided one of those rarest and most meaningful of moments in comic book history; a truly individual vision, free of trends and fads, of editorial policy and the demands of mainstream fandom. In those pages, full of archetypal power, explosive action, and bizarre invention, Jack Kirby—the man who had been both workhorse and maverick, street fighter, and mythic poet, Salesman and creative genius during all of comics most critical junctures—brought his tumultuous career to a dazzling consummation, and in the process created 3 of the finest series of their time.”
“For a while there seemed nowhere to go but up. The titles were apparently selling well, Kirby was committed to them, and their promise seemed boundless. Thus it came as a stunning blow both to Kirby and his fans when DC inexplicably canceled New Gods, and the Forever People after 11 issues(Nov 1972) and Mr. Miracle after 18 (Mar 1974) having already turned Jimmy Olson over to editor Murray Boltinoff (Apr 1972) The “titanic” struggle of New Genesis and Apokolips was left unresolved (With these cancellations Kirby felt a growing discontent with the standard business of comic book production, in which all of his great ideas remained the property of DC, and he gained only a freelancer’s fees; he thus began, like Neal Adams and Mike Freidrich to be a force for legal and financial, as well as creative change in the field.”
Their theory sounds okay, but I don’t entirely buy it. First, I am not sure that the series was selling all that well. I also think Kirby had some idea it was coming. I also don’t consider it the end of Kirby’s fine career. More important, I don’t quite buy the Kirby as social leader because of the cancellation idea. Jack had begun some of the changes such as demand for artwork before the Fourth World. I see no evidence that the idea of copyright or ownership occurred and was fought for by Kirby at that time. Kirby never asked for any of his DC creations, nor the later ones when back at Marvel. The copyright law changes were still several years away, so I doubt Kirby ever thought he had any right to the copyrights at that time. Kirby never joined up with Neal Adams in his brief quest for creative rights. At some later point I do think Kirby became aware and fought for those creative ideals, but not at this time because of this failure. I think the ideas were simply fragments in the ether at this time for Jack.
Seamless end of one and beginning anew
When he was immediately given new series, he swallowed his pride and continued to soldier on. First was The Demon, a curious blend of Arthurian legend and modern mysticism. The Demon is in the real world Jason Blood, a relative of Merlin’s who, when danger intrudes transforms into a hellish demon formed from one of Merlin’s spells. The book was very atmospheric and a vehicle for Kirby to mix monsters, mythology and sci-fi as only he could. It was another case of a conflicted character, neither all good, nor all bad. Speculation this was to venture into the gothic horror market Marvel was cultivating. Mark Evanier explains that it was a Kirby creation done while waiting for a Turkey dinner at Howard Johnsons. The visual effect was stolen from a long ago Hal Foster Prince Valiant story. Again it started with great promise but its energy and dynamism soon eroded and became mundane and anti-climatic. It started out creepy yet soon became camp and tacky.
Foster becomes Kirby
Perhaps it was age, or energy level, but Kirby’s series seemed to have fallen into a predictable pattern. They would start off at a high level as Kirby was energized by the new concept, but after the initial concept was done, the series would then fall into a formulaic, and banal episodic dreariness. Jack couldn’t maintain his original fire in the belly for the series.
Next followed Kamandi; a dystopian tale of a future world where animals were in charge and humans were mindless beasts, except for one boy who had survived the great holocaust and finds himself adrift in a world that he doesn’t understand or control. If this seems reminiscent of Planet of The Apes, that’s because it was inspired by the movie. When DC couldn’t get the rights Carmine decided to make their own version. But this isn’t a simple remake of the movie. Kirby had done something similar many years before in a fantasy comic from Harvey, and his stories share more thematically with that short story than they do from the movie. The name Kamandi was also borrowed from a long lost newspaper strip Kirby had proposed in the 1950’s. Jack retrofitted the name and made the research facility that Kamandi lived in Command D. The physical appearance seems to be a continuation of the long flowing blond hair, devil may care adventurer template as earlier seen in Angel of Boy’s Ranch and Thor. We would see it again in Captain Victory. The child took the name of the facility as his own. Kirby took the kernel and produced a different and more wondrous world than Pierre Boulle ever considered. Kirby’s Kamandi was allegorical, topical, philosophical and just plain simple fun. This was what Infantino wanted and needed, the series would last for over four years and well after Kirby left the series. As per Jack’s history, he gave the child a mentor named Ben Boxer –who can transform his body into a nuclear reactor.
In late 1972 Jack had an idea. He approached DC to try to sell it. Jack had always loved C.C.Beck’s version of Captain Marvel. DC was now the owner of the property since the Fawcett lawsuit. Jack suggested bringing the character back and having Beck once again draw it. DC liked the idea, but turned it over to Editor Julius Schwartz to pursue. Beck would return to draw the strip but the results were less than satisfying. The DC writers could never match or understand Otto Binders self-parodying and innocent essence from the original strip. The book, titled Shazam,though widely anticipated soon floundered. Beck retired once again. Yet DC was able to sell a TV series featuring the intrepid family. After Beck left after issue #11, DC tried to force fit the series into the regular DC Universe to no avail. The series soon folded. Likewise Berni Wrightson introduced Swamp Thing in the back of a fantasy anthology book to great acclaim. The character soon received his own book as Berni provided beautiful artwork and the stories even included Batman, yet Berni soon left and the series was cancelled soon after.
Mike Kaluta made a wonderful attempt at reviving the old pulp character the Shadow-again to much acclaim, but little sales. DC was fighting for new successful series, yet was unable to find the right formula with old or new characters.
Marvel wasn’t doing much better. The downward spiral that started when Kirby stopped plotting hit freefall when Kirby left. Stan Lee had given up the day to day , and the editor position became one big musical chair. Jim Shooter said; “sales were bad and falling. It was almost all newsstand sales then, by the way. This was before the Direct Market was a significant factor. The comics overall were breakeven at best. Upstairs, the cheesy non-comics magazine department was losing millions. It seemed like the company as a whole was in a death spiral.” This, despite a few books like Conan, Master of Kung-Fu, and Tomb of Dracula selling very well.
Amazingly, on their bestselling book, Conan, Barry Smith—the low rate artist had become a super-star. Despite wanting only to work at Marvel, he had become disillusioned with their plantation mentality. In disgust, he left the comic industry to try out for fine art immortality. Suddenly in a book that they had wanted a low wage penciler was given their top rated artist, as John Buscema took over for a long run.
Smith would join several other disgruntled comic artists and create a fine art studio called “the Studio”. Along with Jeff Jones, Bernie Wrightson, and Mike Kaluta left comics to varying degrees to produce large prints and posters, and some book illustrations. Comics bad business design had lost some more talent at an already low point.
Jack created whole new worlds
Jack was known for his spontaneity, his willingness to react in an instant if a story came to him. In Kamandi it was no different. In 1974 the United States was living through a Constitutional crisis. In what has become known as the Watergate Affair, President Nixon was accused of participating in a cover up of a criminal break-in of the Watergate Hotel. In late 1973, we found out that Nixon had installed listening devices and recording capabilities in the Oval Office. When Congress learned that Nixon had recorded his conversations they subpoenaed the existing tapes, which led to a Supreme Court decision that forced Nixon to give up the tapes. When reviewed a mysterious segment of the tape was erased.
The boy showed good taste
While this was going on, Kirby came up with a Kamandi story about a group of apes who lived in the ruins of the Capitol in Wash. D.C. These apes were inspired by the words of the lost tapes that controlled their lives. The apes have formed a sect named the “bugs”. The hunters were called “plumbers” in honor of the mythical Nixon leak stoppers who broke into the Hotel. The sect’s society was built around mysterious spirit voices from the past heard thru the Watergate Sound-maker- a sonic device that can communicate, and destroy thru its amplified noise. After a tough battle, Kamandi and the Tigers are successful in beating back the apes and after dismantling the machine find that the source material was the lost Watergate tapes. When they attempt to play a tape they hear a short message and then a break. The message was “I want to make this perfectly clear”. This strange story appeared in Kamandi #15, dated March 1974. Seven months later Richard Nixon would resign the Presidency. One wonders if Jack received any blow back from such a political spoof during the height of the Country’s crisis. DC was a conservative operation and may not have liked such a partisan political statement.
Jack wasn’t one to usually let his politics intrude in his stories, but Richard Nixon brought out the worst in Kirby. Kirby had a political side. Jack’s son Neal reminisced in an interview for TJKC.
Pre-Kamandi Kamandi – God he hated Richard Nixon
TJKC: Would you consider him socially conscious?
NK: Oh absolutely. One thing I remember when Cesar Chavez was leading the grape boycotts in California. My mother came home with some grapes in a shopping bag, and he goes, “You can’t have those.” and he picks them up and throws them out the kitchen window. I remember we went to a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. It was a simple affair, they had a meal set up. There was an old homeless man standing near the door looking in. My father took the guy by the arm brought him inside, sat him down at the table, and made him a plate of food. (ST note: Just as the Torah commands: When we see a guest, we should see an opportunity–an opportunity to teach, embrace, and learn. It is only through welcoming the stranger that we can truly fulfill our mandate as the children of Israel who left the desert and dwelt in Sukkot.)
After the first 15 episodes, Kamandi started the irrevocable tumble into sameness, schmaltz, and childish silliness with only the occasional burst of Kirby greatness coming through. Jack’s art stayed strong but slipped into a little parody of Kirby grandeur when Jack seemed to be trying too hard for the amazing. The stories suffered from over relying on the graphic end rather than the literary merit. Too often the scenes are too big—they lost the smaller plot cohesiveness needed for a good story.
Days of future past – DC did exist
Kirby was given an ongoing war series called The Losers in a struggling DC war book Our Fighting Forces, and provided 12 issues. Kirby took this lemon and made some of the sweetest lemonade ever seen in funny books. These were some of the most personal stories Kirby had ever written; torn from his war time hell and the pages seemed to be written in blood. The Losers were a collection of DC’s small impact World War 2 heroes, whose own series had been cancelled. The series was very odd. There’s a pretty unhealthy dose of self-loathing within the Losers when you think about it; it seemed like every issue’s cover featured one or all of the Losers in very dire straits, with one of them yelling “Just another reason we were BORN to LOSE!” or something to that effect. However, none of that self-hatred is on display in the Kirby LOSERS stories I have here. Indeed, at a Kirby Panel in San Diego, Mark Evanier commented on how the very title of the feature must have rubbed Jack Kirby the wrong way, as “he would never think of a U.S. serviceman as a loser.” Kirby himself had been drafted in the fall of 1943 and served in the Third Army combat infantry. The series seemed to be rudderless until Kirby took it over. The hard core war themes are so different from the irreverent nature of the earlier Sgt. Fury books. The dangers are so magnified and the horror more pronounced. Yet Jack still found a way to make them enjoyable reads. One of the characters was Captain Storm, a P.T. boat skipper who had lost his boat and his leg in an attack. Storm got around with a wooden leg, and Jack could never figure out which leg was real and which was wood. One panel it would be the left and the very next panel it might be the right. Kirby’s penchant for details was never worse, but it didn’t matter.
The Losers meet Patton
The real question is what was a gimpy P T Boat skipper doing marching around in an infantry brigade? Many consider this short series as the best work Kirby ever did in mainstream comics. In #152, Kirby tells a tale of tired soldiers coming upon a shelled out town and trying to secure it. It ends when the squad runs into Gen. George Patton himself and receives a dressing down. It’s not your usual everybody’s happy at the end tome.
It is of course relevant to remember that the real soldier Jack Kirby did have a run in with Gen. Patton and it too was not pleasant.
Kirby’s war wasn’t pretty
Just as this occurred, many of the young artists joined a new group; the Academy of Comic Book Arts. This quickly served as a vehicle for the artists listing their grievances. The new group was led by firebrand Neal Adams, and Archie Goodwin. Their demands had found no immediate ear among the companies.
After Martin Goodman sold Marvel, it was with the intention to keep his son Chip working at Marvel. Soon, Marvel summarily let Chip go in order to expand Stan Lee’s authority. So Martin financed a new venture for Chip that he named Atlas Comics. He hired indy vet Jeff Rovin as editor. He raided and filled his bullpen with ex-Marvel people like Larry Lieber, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and Neal Adams. Filled with great hopes and praising press coverage they started out with a bang—copying every genre and character that Marvel sold. Their aim was gutsy-take on No.1 straight up.
How Atlas decided to do this was revolutionary; they overthrew the whole dynamic of how comics were done. They offered the artists, complete return of original art; copyright ownership for the characters, and a higher page rate. This guaranteed that the hot artists and writers would flock to the new company.
Despite these crumbs, there were problems. The young writers did not bring great innovations, they brought carnage. These Marvel clones outdid the competition in only one way—body count, and nothing Martin demanded could stem the blood flow. Martin’s demands to match up with Marvel were too much. Lieber and Rovin explained that Marvel’s growth was organic over a long period of time and couldn’t be duplicated in just a year or so. Martin’s continuous demands finally led to Jeff Rovin leaving as it was left to Larry Lieber to run the business—but Martin had lost too much money and there was no way to recoup. Sadly, while Lieber was on jury duty he received a call to see Chip Goodman. He knew what was coming. Martin decided against throwing good money after bad.
Atlas Comics made no lasting mark on comics; they produced nothing of consequence, but their impact was unimaginable on the industry itself. As Jeff Rovin said when asked of any significance; “One was an ownership/profit sharing contract for artists and writers on any character(s) they created, and the other was the return of all artwork. Neither of these were being practiced at the time, and Martin grudgingly agreed to do so when he realized that that kind of arrangement, coupled with high page rates was a means of getting talent to work for us.” No one knew just what was set in motion would one day overwhelm the working relationships on the industry as a whole.
Jack Kirby was under contract to DC and never even considered heading to Atlas. When his contract ran out, Atlas was already floundering. It’s a fun what-if for Kirby to finally reap some of the rewards he had fought so strongly for.
They even stole the logo blurbs
Unfortunately at DC, Kirby threw concept after concept against the wall and nothing else stuck. OMAC, a wonderfully cynical idea, failed despite a plethora of sci-fi concepts and dazzling art. Manhunter (a continuation of the early S&K concept), Atlas, the kid group Dingbats of Danger Street all failed when offered in First Issue Specials—a test market book.
OMAC: Kirby at his most cubistic – A throwback concept a poor man’s Conan
An oddity came about when Joe Simon approached Carmine Infantino with a proposal to update the old S&K Sandman series. Carmine liked the idea but had an even better one. Why not have Joe write it and Jack Kirby draw it, just like in the old days.
Jack wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea but agreed. The result was perhaps the most hyped book in DC’s history; the return of Simon and Kirby. The book was no great shake, Joe had lost his mojo a while back and this story didn’t recapture any of the zaniness one might expect. Kirby’s artwork was Kirby’s modern artwork, with no attempt made to recapture the wartime S&K fluidity and zaniness. Didn’t matter a whole lot, the book was a smash. Joe says it was DC’s best seller of the year. The series was given the go ahead for more issues, without Jack, though he did do the covers. He did return to draw the books with issue #4, but the series written by a DC hack regular was lackluster to say the least. Don’t know if it helped, but the cover of No.4 spotlighted Jack’s name as doing interior work.
Sandman #4 Jack returns Justice Inc. #2 – Even on hack books, Jack never hacked it—interesting take on stereotype
Kirby filled in a few other titles as he was working out the last couple months of his contract which called for a certain number of pages; but there was no there there. Kirby’s mind was once again thinking about starting fresh at a new/old home. He had run into Roy Thomas and when the subject turned to his time at DC, Kirby informed him that his contract was running out and he was available if Marvel would have him back.
Jack’s time at DC was short, and it’s hard to categorize. It wasn’t a failure; Jack produced some of the best work of his career, and enjoyed his modicum of freedom, and was paid his best rate ever while never missing a day. It was personal, powerful, intriguing, and cumbersome. It resonates just as strongly today. The characters have been revived time and time again and are now vital parts of the DC canon.
Simon and Kirby together– once more names on the cover – inks by Royer
Darkseid has become one of the great arch villains at DC, alongside the Joker and Lex Luther. But it also wasn’t a success; Jack would always tell anyone who would listen that his job was to make sales for the company. That’s how he judged his work and on that basis, his work never found the deep audience it deserved. I think it galled him that his most personal work wasn’t accepted. He knew they would eventually find an audience. There are many theories as to why; some claim behind the scenes machinations by editors, some blame lying sales reports, some blame DC’s business decisions and some blame Marvel’s business decisions, they may all be part right and we’ll never know the whole story, but taken for what it was, the comic world was better off for his time there.
Just as Jack was leaving, he received another commission from Pro! Magazine. This time they wanted a couple of illustrations to adorn an article on legendary quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
On March 16th 1965, an 82 year old German Jew, who had escaped the horror of Nazi Germany, had run out of alternatives. Alice Herz’s campaigns to end the war in Viet Nam had proven fruitless. In a final act of desperation Alice went outside and on an urban Detroit street doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire, thus becoming the first American to self-immolate in protest of the war. She wasn’t the last. This human torch didn’t fly or throw flame balls- she died a horrible painful death. Herz wrote a last testament, which she distributed to several friends and fellow activists before her death. The testament specifically refers to her decision to follow the protest methods of the Buddhist Vietnamese monks and nuns, whose acts of self-immolation had received worldwide attention. Confiding to a friend before her death, Herz remarked that she had used all of the accepted protest methods available to activists—including marching, protesting, and writing countless articles and letters—and she wondered what else she could do. Later in March, Martin Luther King would lead a civil rights march on Selma, Alabama. In April, 25,000 people would march on Washington D.C. in protest of the war. The perfect storm of civil disobedience had arrived and America would never be the same.
Working away – Hot day in Detroit
Meanwhile, back in England, the Beatles were awarded MBE’s (Member of the Order of British Empire) at Buckingham Palace; much to the dismay of the stodgy aristocracy. Prime Minister Harold Wilson explained, “I saw the Beatles, as having a transforming effect on the minds of youth, mostly for the good. It kept a lot of kids off the streets. They introduced many many young people to music, which in itself was a good thing. A lot of old stagers might have regarded it as idiosyncratic music, but the Mersey sound was a new important thing. That’s why they deserved such recognition.” – That, plus the millions of pounds that the Beatles and their imitators had brought to the British economy.
America was on fire! Los Angeles was ablaze, In perhaps the worst rioting in American history the black residents of the Watts section of L.A. said enough was enough. For 6 days in August 1965 they burned and rioted in defiance of a police force they felt had a long history of brutality and prejudice against the black populace. Seen as part of the civil rights movement that had been active and growing for decades, these riots were the resultant explosions of a long simmering animosity. After the Watts riot, inner cities boiling over became commonplace with it being a rarity for a major city to be spared.
The U.S. was at war with itself. To Marvel this wasn’t enough. They needed a real villain, one that made our little worries seem silly. Suddenly, the Universe was against us. From out of the stars came a monster so vast and omnipotent that the Earth itself was of no more importance than the latest buffet at Golden Corral. This was God, and he was hungry. But Jack’s pacing was such that our danger was doled out a little at a time. First we get introduced to God’s herald, a cosmic being whose job it was to go out and rustle up happy meals for God. Jack’s answer was the Silver Surfer. A chrome covered humanoid who surfed the cosmos like Duke Kahanamoku on the shores of Oahu. Surfing was the hot new sport filling up teen movies like Gidget, Ride the Wild Surf, and Beach Blanket Bingo, while Wild World of Sports began showing surf competitions, and Rock and Roll led with the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. The sport was graceful, dynamic and centered on the perfect human form.
The Surfer was the ultimate comic character—constant movement, no clothes, and could go where no man had gone before. The surf board was a wonderful accessory; it swooped and dove, and lead the action. The first chapter of the saga was the FF vs. Silver Surfer, who treated them with disdain as he checked out this world as a main course. The FF had been warned by the Watcher that the end was near, since Galactus was an unstoppable force. Their every effort against the Surfer was swatted away as insignificant. Yet The Thing strikes a telling blow that sends the Surfer falling into the studios of Alicia Masters.
Size – strength – and grace
While the Surfer is down, Galactus lands and begins assembling his world-eater. Knowing man has no defense, the Watcher ignores his pledge of no-interference and sends Johnny on a space trek to find a weapon to cause Galactus pause. The other FF members try to disrupt and delay Galactus plans only to be swatted away by his minions.
The Surfer recovers in Alicia’s studio and begins to understand that this civilization has purpose and reason. For once he realizes that he must stand up against his master. The last chapter is the Surfer battling and aggravating his boss, only to be swatted away as easily as the FF had been. Time is running out and even the Surfer realizes he can do nothing to save Earth. Just as Galactus is ready to operate his machines, Johnny Storm returns with a weapon to fight Galactus, Reed takes this weapon—the ultimate nullifier– and soon figures it out and confronts Galactus. Galactus realizes just what this weapon
Bite this Michaelangelo – comics x10
could do in the hands of a lower civilization, and backs off. He agrees to leave this world untouched, but as a parting sense of pique, he imprisons his former herald on this world. This mixture of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and the biblical fallen angel was worlds above anything ever offered to the public before. Jack’s visuals sent this series into a whole new stratosphere. Never had raw power been so explosive and effectively drawn before. His pictures of the Surfer and Galactus surpassed any artistic representation ever done before, Jack’s art entered the realm of the Greats—not even Picasso or Goya would ever present such raw power graphically. It was doing what no artist had ever done. It gave form to unsurpassed power and relegated man to insignificance, yet still showed man at his most godly. Jack took the comic book to a whole new level, so high that it may never be equaled. The Silver Surfer became a symbol of questioning and humanity and haunted belief never seen before in comics. Stan Lee so loved this character that he forbade others from using him. Yet Stan Lee admits that the character was completely created by Jack Kirby. Stan says he was shocked when he first saw this flying icon. Jack had his own ideas, but was usurped from letting him grow. Whenever people talk about what is best about comics, The Fantastic Four #48-50 is always raised. If FF #25-26 stand as the best all-time fight issues, than The Galactus Saga stands supreme as comics as philosophical treatise. My one complaint is that the ending was a little too contrived, Jack had used a similar “Watcher gives the FF an unearthly machine” idea back in The Fantastic Four Annual #3. But it does add another wrinkle to have the Watcher disregard his oath not to interfere. Yet Jack wasn’t finished showing just what comics could do. Jack’s next step was to go to the very soul of what America was about; to take America where it had never gone before. Jack Kirby took comics into the mythological realm of Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth”. Or, as he put it “The Hero’s Journey” Comics had become adult reading.
This isn’t Archie or Casper – Even as action figures they’re mythic
The boys become men
The Beatles let go of the average and took pop music into the mythic when they released Rubber Soul in Dec. 1965. They actively melded pop with Dylanlike lyrics, Byrdlike harmonies, world music and a more sophisticated, worldly, and at times ambiguous message. It seems like a huge step into maturation that left teenage pap far behind. Nowhere Man is a searing portrait of man as an inconsequential character in a larger tapestry. While Norwegian Wood made a single man’s search for love into a cosmic quest of mythic importance. Suddenly rock music became a journey of growth rather than dance steps and stolen kisses. The Beatles threw off their teen mantle and announced they were serious adults.
Positive black characters had been a rarity in mainstream comics. Stan and Jack figured it was time to end that lunacy. Their first attempt was in making one of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos an African American. Gabe Jones was a bugle playing GI in the multicultural commando unit. His race had been a focal point of several plotlines in the early stories and his bravery and dignity –like Jackie Robinson–never faltered. But Gabe was still a minor character in a book full of unique characters. It was time to create a major character strong enough to stand on its own and where else would Lee and Kirby introduce him other than the Fantastic Four- the comic where most of the important new characters were introduced. In issue #52 July 1966, the Fantastic Four meet up with the Black Panther and his home country of Wakanda in darkest Africa. The Black Panther is the chief of the Wakandans –a small independent country made rich by a natural mineral called Vibranium. T’challa, the Panther’s given name, had used this wealth to promote education and modernity on his small nation and has created a miraculous scientifically advanced country, deeply hidden in the African jungle. But Wakanda had an enemy, and the Panther had to test himself to see if he was ready to take on this enemy. The final test was to see if he could defeat the greatest team of superheroes imaginable. Though he did not defeat the FF, he certainly held them to a stalemate. The idea of heroes testing themselves against each other was a common plot line for Marvel. The heroes fought each other as often as villains. The fight against the villainous Klaw–Master of Sound -would showcase the Panther’s bravery, physical prowess and human decency. He was a perfect fit for admittance to Marvel’s pantheon of heroes. Later we would learn the unique process used at Marvel when we see the actual steps used to create this character. He started out being known as Coal Tiger a very unwieldy name.
Jack always helped out – Intro to a black super-hero
Some have complained that the concept was weakened by making the Panther a super-rich, European educated, African monarch, instead of an American from the inner city. Others disagree saying that making T’challa an African was even braver by introducing a new hero from the emerging continent of Africa, rather than making him an American. Africa had never had a particularly positive image in American culture. More of an after thought used mostly for Tarzan movie backgrounds where the black populace was useful for carrying bags and feeding the lions. Lee and Kirby transformed Tarzan into a black native- the equal to any white hero.
On his blog, Julius Chamblis writes; “The Black Panther provides the visual cue of difference that broke the barrier of white heroic privilege, but not the cultural perspective that created it. Removed from the U.S. experience by national identity, personal history, and individual motivation the Panther’s appearance did not directly address the stifling effect of racial prejudice. The Panther looked different, but like Kirby, his actions affirm his right to inclusion. Like current debates about post-racial thinking, Kirby was not beyond racial identification, he merely attempted to devalue it.”
Black panther logo – brother Stokely
The earliest use of the term Black Panther was for the heralded tank crew fighting in the 3rd Army during WW2. As a World War 2 veteran, Jack was certainly familiar with Patton’s Panthers, The Black Panther all-black tank battalion which led the battle of Lorraine and Metz and was a favorite of Gen. Patton.
The Black Panther symbol predated Kirby’s use of the title. The all-black tank group that led the march into Metz were known as the Black Panthers. Another earlier but not well known use was as the sporting logo for historically black Clark College in Atlanta Ga. It was used in 1965 by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to help signup black voters in Lowndes County Alabama. Formed by oft-arrested radical Stokely Carmichael and his Students For a Non-violent Coordinating Committee, the LCFO was on the cusp of the rising black power movement. There was national coverage by Life magazine.
A couple months later in Oakland California a group of black nationalists would form a new group espousing Black Power in all things, chief among them the end of police brutality, full and equal black employment, and self-realization of all black people. This group would transform into perhaps the most radical black organization of all. The name of the group was the Black Panther Party. Three black Californians, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale, asked for permission to use the Black Panther emblem that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization had adopted, for their newly formed Black Panther Party. Stan Lee worried about the name being appropriated by a radical group and changes were suggested. Ideas were passed. But luckily none were accepted. The Black Panther stayed the Black Panther and he became a part of the Marvel Universe.
Great first effort but no gloves – Kirby on the cover
1966 saw the first appearance of a new toy; Captain Action from Ideal Toys continued the evolution of the articulated doll such as Barbie, and for the boys, G.I.Joe—complete with multiple costumes and accessories. Comic characters had crossed over to toys. Action’s gimmick was that he could morph into well known fictional characters as diverse as the Lone Ranger and Flash Gordon. With interchangeable masks, and costumes the Captain could become Superman, Batman, The Phantom, Flash, Aquaman, Steve Canyon, Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, and from Marvel, Captain America, and Sgt. Fury. Marvel was paid well for the licenses yet never shared with Jack Kirby. Not even for the artwork that accompanied the boxes. Further series expanded on the Captain Action retinue with the likes of Spider-Man and Green Hornet. Captain Action got his own comic book by DC, got his own powers, but lost the ability to change into other characters. As Captain Action’s universe expanded, his son joined in, he even received his own archenemy. (Dr. Evil) The merchandising of Marvel’s characters was exploding upon the masses. And no benefit filtered down to the artists. Cartoons, T-shirts, toys, Halloween costumes, rings, pj’s, puzzles, games of all sort sported recognizable art from the bullpen.
Too generic just a GI Joe costume – no half beard – Should have ripped up uniform
Roy Huggins created and produced a new series Run For Your Life; with perhaps the epitome of the hero with a problem meme. Ben Gazzara played Paul Bryant, a lawyer who has learned he has but two years to live. An anthology style series with each episode in a different location and different people in moments of personal crisis, which the hero helps resolve.
Ben Gazarra legging it
1965 would see the Beatles receiving their own cartoon feature. The adventures were little vignettes based on Beatle songs, plus a couple sing-a-long tunes for audience participation. Produced in Australia, the animation was quite good.
Hysterical local TV host for the cartoons with better costume than the movie Cap – Find this baby!!!
In 1966, Marvel sold the rights of several characters to Gantray-Lawrence to produce cartoons for afternoon viewing. Thor, Submariner, Cap, Iron Man and Hulk hit the airwaves in late ’66 to good response. Spidey appeared in 1967. The animation was of the lowest order–barely stats from comic pages with moving lips and arms and legs. The best aspect might have been the cheesy opening songs lovingly remembered even today. There were a couple commercial tie ins. (note Captain America card blurb) In 1967, The FF got their own cartoon series with much superior production values due to Hanna Barbera’s larger budget. As a publicity campaign for Marvel, they were a resounding success. Jack was taken by surprise with the cartoons. “If I’d known they were gonna do that with it I would’ve demanded to be paid a lot more” Jack went to Martin Goodman and complained. Goodman told Jack that the company wasn’t making anything off the cartoons, they were great advertising for the comics. Kirby had heard that before, but there was nothing he could do about it.
1966 was a good year
At the time, very few managers of pop groups needed to worry about how much money music merchandising could generate as very few artists survived long enough in the pop domain to be a viable investment. As far as Epstein was concerned it was merely good public relations, and any revenue that arose from the sale of Beatles-endorsed products was regarded as merely found money that supplemented the Beatles’ individual incomes from live performances and record sales. “We did our best; some people have said it wasn’t good enough. That’s easy to say with 20/20 hindsight but remember that there were no rules. We were making it up as we went along.” In America Epstein had met the well-known divorce lawyer, Nat Weiss, whom Epstein later asked to take over the merchandising affairs of The Beatles and NEMS. Weiss would later state, “The reality is that The Beatles never saw a penny out of the merchandising. Comic books artists, much less publishers had even less skill and knowledge about the merchandise possibilities.
Jack’s dream came true! His son had graduated high school, and was going to college. Neal had been accepted to prestigious Syracuse University, the same college that Jack always erroneously said that Joe Simon attended. Neal said that growing up it was considered a Jewish tradition. The son grows up and goes to college; it was never an option, it was expected. But Neal knew of his father’s shame at not finishing high school, and he knew how proud his dad was that his son had surpassed him.
In August 1966 the Beatles headlined a concert at Shea Stadium before 56,000 screaming fans; at the time, the largest attendance ever for a rock concert. Coincidentally, the Fantastic Four and Thor hit perhaps their highest peak of creativity.
Late in 1966, in another outside commission, Jack drew a promotional poster for a new TV show. Captain Nice was an NBC comedy series featuring William Daniels as a mild mannered police detective who becomes a super hero when he discovers a secret formula. He fights evil in a homemade costume his mother devised. The series was created by Buck Henry, who had also created Get Smart, a spoof on the spy genre. Jack’s part came about when John J. Graham, the Director of Design for NBC, was told to come up with an advertising poster for the new series. John’s son, Bruce was a big Kirby fan, and when his father mentioned the job, Bruce suggested Kirby for the artist. The poster shows the good captain flying over the town while assorted bad guys take pot shots at him. A second drawing showing a close up of three cops looking out a window was added into the commercials. Kirby’s poster was shown on commercials using a fast cut animation style jumping from image to image, promoting the new series.
Chic Stone supplied the inking for the poster, and Kirby colored. Jack rewarded the young Bruce Graham with a personally signed Captain Nice sketch. The series premiered in the fall of 1967. Chic remembers the circumstances. Jack’s sense of timing was sometimes askew. He and his daughter awoke Chic in the middle of the night. He was carrying a huge piece of illustration board which was covered with brown paper. Chic noted; “Jack lifted the brown paper, and I was awestruck by the most magnificent Kirby pencil I had ever seen. It was for NBC and a new show called Capt. Nice. “I couldn’t believe my ears when he asked me to ink it. We negotiated a price, but Jack never knew that I would have been thrilled to do it gratis. When I put my brush to that drawing, it knew just where to go. It was a marriage of pencil and ink. I would love to see that artwork one more time.” The show debuted in Jan. 1967.
Kirby reaches out
In an outside commission, in late 1966, Jack Kirby had been asked to draw a story for Esquire Magazine. Issue #402, dated May 1967 focused on the Kennedy assassination, and Kirby drew a 3 page tale of Jack Ruby’s life immediately before killing Lee Harvey Oswald. The art was also finished by longtime inker Chic Stone. The art was more realistic than Kirby’s comic art, and he told the story in a straight forward manner with lots of legal testimony added to the text. A few months earlier Kirby had provided some illustrations for an article about the rise of Marvel Publications at colleges. (#394, Sept. 1966) The magazine made quite a fuss about how Marvel had taken over the colleges. There was a mix-up in cover choices and money so the magazine promised Jack more work to make up for it. As usual, Jack got screwed. A later promised job never came to fruition.
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had done their job well. At a time of declining readership, Marvel was unique; its sales were rising and the books were reaching markets never imagined. Colleges were going bonkers over Marvel’s characters. They formed clubs and set up classes to study the phenomenon. As the public face, Stan Lee was suddenly BMOC and hosting seminars and talks on major campuses. Stan was on radio, and in newspapers and major magazines, always touting Marvel and himself. Martin Goodman’s once lowly comic division was now spewing forth dollars. Merchandising such as models, and T-shirts were bringing in unexpected profits. Martin Goodman’s company was a red cape flapping in the bull’s faces.
Afternoon cartoons were bringing in new fans, who bought more books. Martin began rewarding the comic division by paying higher, more competitive page rates, which in turn brought in more artists and better inkers, but not voluntarily. When asked if Marvel offered Kirby rate increases, Kirby states: ‘No, no. I had to ask for them. There’s a class system in comics.” “I had to make a living. I was a married man.
Kirbytech at its pinnacle – Kirby’s super cocoon + child becomes master
I had a home. I had children. I had to make a living. That is the common pursuit of every man. It just happened that my living collided with the times. Circumstances forced me to do it. They forced me. There wasn’t a sense of excitement. It was a horrible, morbid atmosphere. If you can find excitement in that kind of atmosphere the excitement was fear.”
1968 Marvel gets the gold ring – Jack got tired of correcting covers and working over other artists work for little or no pay
The Marvel method of creating the stories was becoming a problem. Some great artists could not adjust to the idea of self-developing the story from a short synopsis. They came up working from complete scripts, and in some cases were simply not good storytellers. For others they needed a bit of guidance to adapt to the new methodology, and dynamics. Unhappily Kirby began doing layouts to help these artists, such as George Tuska, Werner Roth, and John Romita, to get used to the new in-house dynamic style. There was little or no extra pay for this assistance.
Gil Kane recognized Kirby’s contribution;
“Jack was the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company … It wasn’t merely that Jack conceived most of the characters that are being done, but … Jack’s point of view and philosophy of drawing became the governing philosophy of the entire publishing company and, beyond the publishing company, of the entire field … [Marvel took] Jack and use[d] him as a primer. They would get artists … and they taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learning Jack Kirby. … Jack was like the Holy Scripture and they simply had to follow him without deviation. That’s what was told to me … It was how they taught everyone to reconcile all those opposing attitudes to one single master point of view”
The artists who were creating these plots and stories were becoming disillusioned at Stan claiming sole writing credit. They wanted more money for doing more work. They began questioning and demanding what they thought was only proper. It was their storytelling talents that were selling more books and they wanted a larger slice of the pie. At an earlier time, this would have been inconceivable. The feudal setup of the comic industry made it impossible for the artists to make any kind of demands on the owners. The imbalance of power was so great that even the creators of the largest money maker in comic history were unable to demand credit, or royalties, much less ownership of their creations. Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman had been embroiled in a protracted legal conflict with DC comics over the ownership of the Big Guy.
At every turn they had been rejected by the courts. The other artists had kept a keen eye on the proceedings and with each loss, they felt their power diminish. The idea of credits, and royalties, and reprint fees, and copyright to creations was an unimaginable goal. Such was the power of the publishers. Several writers of note over at DC tried to organize, and when the company found out they were summarily released and replaced overnight.
From Kirby in an interview with TCJ:
“The artist is the lowest form of life on the rung of the ladder. The publishers are usually businessmen who deal with businessmen. They deal with promotional people. They deal with financial people. They deal with accountants. They deal with tax people, but have absolutely no interest in artists; in individual artists…They pat you on your head and say “How are you Jackie?” Things like that…..Their accountants are more important to them than you are, and yet you’re making the sales that they depend on. It’s an odd setup, but it exists…..Superman is the classic example, see? All these businessmen are the top of the pyramid, but the entire pyramid is resting on two little stones, and the pyramid denies the existence of these stones because it’s so big. It’s loaded with officials, but the little stones are the ones that are holding it up because that’s where the support is coming from, and I was in the same position.”
But this was the Sixties, a time where every long held assumption was questioned. The first crack was not by the comic artists, but by another group of underpaid and unappreciated artists. In mid-1960, screen writers, represented by the Writers Guild of America went on a long strike.
Mark Evanier; professional writer and comic historian notes;
In 1951, the Guild began to represent the writers of that newfangled thing called television, and in 1955, a number of regional and smaller groups that represented writers’ interests were absorbed and reorganized. We wound up with a Writers Guild of America, West and a Writers Guild of America, East.
From then on, the WGA’s history is largely a series of strikes or threatened strikes, each of which resulted in the establishment of some new right or principle. They won the right to residuals when TV shows were rerun; they won the right to screen credits, setting up a system of rules and arbitrations that stopped the guy who ran the studio from slapping his nephew’s name on your script. The strike of 1960 – which lasted 151 days, making it the longest strike in Hollywood until the Writers Guild later bettered its own record – was the one that secured a pension plan as well as residual payments when a movie was run on television.
The history of TV credits and creative rights and comic books have many parallels. At Warner Bros, the spiritual parent of Martin Goodman’s Marvel, Roy Huggins, the creative genius who guided all the interlocking series, had been constantly thwarted by William T. Orr, the President of WB TV division. Orr once switched the order of the first two episodes of Maverick so that Huggins couldn’t claim credit for creation purposes. Even more famously, Jack Warner deliberately had the pilot to 77 Sunset Strip screened briefly at movie theatres in the Caribbean in order to legally establish that the television series derived from a WB film, rather than, as was actually the case, several books Huggins had written in the 1940s. Since this was not the only occasion on which Warner had found a way to circumvent Huggins’ creative rights, Huggin’s left the studio soon thereafter. Following this experience, he increasingly demanded ownership of all television concepts he authored. By the mid-1960s, he had added this demand into a standard part of all contracts into which he entered.
“I was getting paid my royalty and my fee whether I did the show or not. If I conceived the show, and got it on the air, anyone could produce it and I would still get paid just as if I was doing it . . . That became known as “the Huggins Contract”. Every producer in television would say ‘I want the Huggins contract’, and some of them got it”.
—Roy Huggins, interview with the Archive of American Television, July 21, 1998
Sadly, comic artists would never unionize, but there was a mounting belief that they deserved more credit and payment for their works. Stan’s personal affection for his artists led to his predilection for listing credits, this would come back to hurt him. Stan was a caring man caught in an uncaring process. First, with the hard headed Wally Wood, whom Stan had heralded on the cover on Daredevil #5 as the next great thing. Wally took to the Marvel method as a duck to water; he personally raised Daredevil’s profile from a low tier character to a top line character with some great stories to match the dramatic costume change. Suddenly the character was allowed access to the top tier villains. Daredevil’s battle with Submariner in Daredevil #7 is considered one of the seminal comics of the Marvel Age. Yet behind the scenes, Wally and Stan were in a constant battle over credits.
If Wally was to plot and pace the stories, he wanted credit as a writer. For Stan’s part the writer credit was sacrosanct; it belonged to him alone, and the money that came with it. It’s important to note that though Stan was the editor, his writing was as a freelancer and he got full writer’s pay for the stories he was co-plotting. There could be no compromise and Wally left after less than 10 Daredevil stories. In an article many years later Wally would write “”Stanley” came up with two surefire ideas… the first one was ‘Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?’… And the second was… ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP… BIG!!” And the rest is history…Stanley of course became rich and famous … over the bodies of people like Bill and Jack. Bill, (Everett) who had created the character (Submariner) that had made his father (uncle) rich wound up coloring and doing odd jobs. And Jack? Well, a friend of mine summed it up like this. “Stanley and Jack have a conference, then Jack goes home, and after a couple of month’s gestation, a new book is born. Stanley gets all the money and all the credit… And all poor old Jack gets is a sore ass hole.” This was the first of many breaks in the façade of a Merry Marvel bullpen, but the fans never knew. Stan’s bullpen bulletins spun a tale of nothing but jocularity and solidarity among the artists. Yet Stan’s bullpens made superstars out of the artists.
If the Emperor’s new clothes were beginning to fray at Marvel, the Beatles were suddenly naked. Despite a three year run of unparalleled chart dominance and critical acclaim the public had turned against them. A manufactured American band knocked the Beatles off the top rung. The Monkees were Hollywood created to take advantage of the new sounds and popularity pioneered by the Liverpool lads, but dismayingly they started to sell more records. Even worse, an offhand, but not untrue, remark in a small magazine interview by John Lennon comparing the Beatles to Jesus Christ had escalated into a full blown revolt by Churches and youth groups that started to burn Beatles records and ban them from radio play. Cynthia Lennon in her biography says. “In an interview John likened the Beatles to Jesus Christ. His truly honest assessment of their popularity offended the God-fearing, clean living Americans who lived in the Bible belt of America. His views were perhaps misconstrued. John was very bewildered and frightened by the reaction that his words created in the States. Beatle albums were burnt in a mass orgy of self-righteousness indignation. Letters arrived at the house full of threats, hate and venom. Finally to try to squash the revolt John Lennon offered a somewhat tepid apology. “If I had said that television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it. It’s a fact, in reference to England, we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it, as a fact and it’s true, more for England than here. I’m not saying we’re better or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing, or whatever it is, you know, I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong, and now it’s all this!”
Shades of 1955
It helped that in August of 1966 they released their most refined album. Revolver is their finest collection of songs minus some of the over production of their last couple albums. But cracks had formed. John went off to Spain to film a movie while George left for India to visit the Maharishi and study with Ravi Shankar. At an art gallery in London John Lennon meets Yoko Ono. Suddenly the single minded purpose of the lads gave way to individual needs. Egos were taking over. I tend to think this is a natural progression seen in many successful collaborations. Two being one can only last so long.
The racks were rocking in Aug. 1966
Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby had followed keenly the rise of Marvel, and they constantly hit up Goodman for a raise in page rates. Marvel had slowly risen close to the industry leader DC. They also noted that their graphics were being used to sell T-shirts, toys, clubs, games and even bed clothing, and that they got nothing extra for their graphics. They confronted Stan and Martin and were told that when the comic division started making a bigger profit, that they would be taken care of.
Steve Ditko had built Spider-Man into Marvel’s best-selling book. Steve was also in the process of developing a very rigid personality enthralled with the philosophy of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The black and white nature of this belief made it hard for Steve to compromise, and Stan increasingly found it hard to work with him. This is ironic as it was Ditko whom Stan loved writing for most of all. Ditko, like Wally Wood, also demanded credit for what he considered the writing since he was providing the plots and pacing for the book. Spider-Man was too important to the line and for once Stan relented and in issue 26 the credit for co-plotting was added to Ditko’s name. Despite this band aid, pretty soon things became so bad that Stan and Steve no longer talked and all communications were passed through a go-between.
To give an example of Stan’s disconnect with the anger of the artists not receiving proper credit, the consummate pro Dick Ayers tells of his growing animus with not getting credit and confronting Stan. One day Dick approached Stan; “Stan, I think I should be paid for co-writing your stories….you don’t even give me credit…you just sign your name as writer!” To which the unconvinced Stan replies. “My-oh-my you do have an ego! Okay, I’ll add a couple bucks to your page rate! But not your name as writer…”
Even on the girl books cracks were forming. Stan Goldberg, the longtime Millie the Model artist told interviewer Jim Amash; Stan would drive me home and we’d plot our stories in the car. I’d say to Stan, How’s this? Millie loses her job.” He’d say, ”Great! Give me 25 pages.” And that took him off the hook. One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
For Kirby’s part, he was old school. Credits were nice, but he worked to care for a wife and four children. As long as he could get higher page rates, the secondary demands would stay on the back-burner. The Marvel method was its own reward for it meant that Stan would mostly leave Kirby alone to take his series where he wanted them to go. Jack’s trips to the Marvel offices dropped to once or twice a month.
The most aggravating part was Stan’s little niggling demands for page redos and doing layouts for competent artists who Jack felt needed no help from him. Worse yet, Kirby got little extra money for redoing and laying out pages. Kirby’s pride also started taking a hit as more and more, in all the articles and interviews it was Stan who was credited as the main creative force on the books. Kirby knew how the system worked, but it smarted when in an interview for the New York Herald-Tribune, Stan was presented as a creative visionary and Jack Kirby as a drooling toady in an ill fitting suit. This so enraged Roz that she personally called Stan to demand he get a retraction of some sort. Stan played the aggrieved and ignorant party. Jack soon became tired of being told by Stan to redo his first cover and come up with a new one. The time it took to make a new one was never compensated by the company. Similarly, whenever he went into the studio, Stan would gladhand him to correct parts of other artists covers for no money. Stan’s charm was running thin. And Jack’s ego was roiling.
In 1966, Harvey Publishing contacted Joe Simon about jumping on the bandwagon of Jack Kirby at Marvel. Harvey had Joe put together a couple issues that featured heavily Jack Kirby art from old Harvey inventory. In Blastoff, Joe assembles stories originally scheduled for Race For The Moon #4 with a Kirby collage type cover. In Fighting American Joe put together some unpublished Kirby stories from Fighting American and padded it with old inventory plus a newly drawn story by George Tuska. The requisite Kirby cover is a doozy. Joe also put together two issues of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Joe also created a new super hero universe for Harvey, hiring a young newcomer named Jim Steranko to help create it. Jack was competing with perhaps his best art ever, Moody, strong, and an endless imagination.
The songwriting style of Lennon/McCartney had started out as a seamless symbiosis of the two artists; a smooth combination of style and inspiration, a blending of strengths and weaknesses. But with the release of “Can’t Buy Me Love” a song written solely by Paul, the team began a new process and a friendly rivalry began where they began writing separately and fighting for who would get the next single. This competition also affected George Harrison, who was becoming a strong songwriter himself. Yet he always found himself the odd man out when it came to singles. He did manage to usually get one song per album, but never the prize. It wouldn’t be until 1969 and the release of “Something” that Harrison’s talents would be rewarded. The competition led to an outpouring of superb songs. George Martin’s producing never allowed it to get out of hand. In the studio all players added in bits that added to the final product.
In 1967, the Beatles released their most lavishly crafted LP yet. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would become the record against which all others would be judged. Its success was so astounding, and the production values so leading that none could ever live up to it. Even future Beatles albums couldn’t live up to it so that they specifically chose a lower fidelity retro rock and roll feel for their records.
Rock and roll kitchen sink – awe inspiring
At the same time Jack and Stan released the ultimate FF books. #66 and 67 has Jack give the world the ultimate creation, Him. Rising from a manmade cocoon, the creation is so above humanity that it realizes it must leave mankind alone. Though not by Kirby, this creation would become the super being Warlock. No creation was ever left behind. It was not without problems. Stan missed Kirby’s meaning and changed the whole story. It lost a lot of the deeper philosophy of Kirby’s original story. Some say it was Kirby’s stab at spoofing the new absolute philosophy of Ayn Rand and her “perfect heroes”. Stan’s ideas would continue long after Jack’s involvement with the character. Him made an appearance over on Thor, but it turned into a typical battle royal and an unfulfilling ending. It would be a couple years before he was reincarnated as Warlock.
Stan was not a fool, he knew he couldn’t afford to alienate Kirby, so Jack’s credit were upgraded almost to an equal of Stan’s in the Fantastic Four when it switched from separate and unequal to a combined “Produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” Several more times Jack and Steve would remind Lee and Goodman about their promise to share in the greater profits, (perhaps in response to the Wall Street Journal article) only to be shined off with further promises.
Stan Lee has been quoted far too many times not to believe that there is a thread of truth to it. “It’s a little trick I learned; instead of paying people money, I gave them a little credit line in the books. This went on for a couple years before they got wise.”
For his part, Steve Ditko had finally had enough; the quiet, philosophical bachelor made a choice, and after 39 consecutive issues of Spider-Man, two annuals, and dozens for Dr. Strange, he gave notice. After Woody, this was strike two. Stan Lee to his everlasting shame still denies knowing why Steve Ditko left, while Steve made it very clear in a telephone interview with comic journalist Bob Beerbohm in 1969 that he was tired of being put off by both Goodman and Lee over the subject of residuals.
“Steve Ditko told me and my friend Steve Johnson that he and Jack had been promised royalties if their new creations took off. They were told by Martin Goodman (picture a fellow putting his arm around the back of your shoulder, voice sounding very sincere) “Don’t worry about a thing if the books sell well, we’ll take care of you.”
That ‘we’ included his relative, Stanley Lieber, long time editor of Goodman’s comic book division. Just a division, mind you. Goodman was also a major publisher of a lot of those “men’s adventures” magazines popular to a lot of vets back in the 50s and 60s plus yet other areas to make a buck in.
When the first merchandising on Spider-Man, by this time already one of the main titles, came along, Steve started making noise about the extra dough. So did Jack. They were told that the company was still not making enough money, to wait. Promised contracts never seemed to be completed to be signed, carefully verbal in nature.
By early 1966, Steve walked, he said to us, and he urged Jack to come along.”
One might think with two strikes, Stan would become more cautious about losing the artists, but I think Stan began believing his own press. He thought that it was he that had imbued the Marvel Universe and the artists were simply his tools, despite leaning more and more on them. Increasingly Lee’s input dwindled to where there were some stories with not even a basic plot by Lee. On a Sgt. Fury story Stan told Dick that he had no ideas for the next issue. Dick drew a blank also and it was Dick’s wife Lindy who came up with the plot. When Dick suggested a onetime credit for Lindy, Stan summarily dismissed it. Another time, on a story without any Lee input, Ayers was adamant about receiving the writing credit. Lee was just as adamant that he would not receive the writer credit, but instead, Lee would give Ayers credit as letterer and Ayers would get that additional pay; Lee would still get the writer’s credit and pay. Lee laughed this off and claimed that Ayers was getting an ego without realizing his own, this is a screaming indictment of how the work place relationship at Marvel had devolved; and then to try to buy him off with a couple gold pieces. A victim of their own success; once again Kirby and the other artists were reminded just how low their place was in the Corporate scheme. The ones doing the creative work received the least reward.
One of the newcomers was John Romita, an artist who had made his name with DC’s romance books. He started working over Kirby layouts on Daredevil. He was given the Spider-Man series after Steve Ditko left, and changed that book from a dark, serious series into a lighter, more reader friendly series and the fans responded. One day, he took Jack to the Playboy Club for lunch. There John told Jack of a long ago tale. During the Crestwood days, Joe and Jack would advertise for new artists to work for them; mostly as inkers and “in-between artists” who could take some of Kirby’s layouts and expand them to fit a story. Young John Romita responded to one of the ads, and was given a penciled page to ink as a test. John took the page home and inked it; looking at the page he was disappointed, so he did it again and again. Never satisfied he threw it away and never returned to Simon and Kirby. “I told him I chickened out. I should have brought back the inked page and let him (Kirby) tear it apart. I would have have learned more, but I was embarrassed at the work I did”. I said to him “Gee Jack, we could have been working all those years,” and he said “That’s a shame John, I could have turned you into a dynamo.” “If I had worked with Jack, if I had the guts to go back, I would have been a different artist, a much more confident and freewheeling artist” Romita lamented.
To help replace the lost work from Steve Ditko leaving, Stan hired an old pro from Atlas days. John Buscema had come to comics in the mid-fifties while Atlas still had an in-house bullpen. With the changeover to all freelancers, and the Atlas Implosion, John had abandoned comics in a huff. Stan could now offer John full employment and stability. But John’s skills had rusted up from non-use. His first work was stiff and uninspiring, John worried if he could cut it. From an interview in Jack Kirby Collector;
JB: “I would not have been able to survive in comics if not for Jack Kirby. When Stan called me back in 1966, I had one hell of a time trying to get back in the groove. You can do illustration, you can do layouts, but that doesn’t mean you can do comics. It’s a whole different ball game. Stan gave me a book to do; I think it was the Hulk. I did a pretty bad job – Stan thought I should study Jack’s art and books so he gave me a pile of Kirby’s comics. Well, everybody was given Jack Kirby books! (laughter) It was the first time I’d seen his work. I started working from them, and that’s what saved me.
TJKC: What did you learn from them?
JB: “The layouts, for cryin’ out loud!” I copied! Every time I needed a panel, I’d look up at one of his panels and just rearrange it. If you look at some of the early stuff I did – y’know, where Kirby had the explosions with a bunch of guys flying all over the place? I’d swipe them cold! (laughter) Stan was happy. The editors were happy, so I was happy.”
Dick Ayers also tells of a might have been story. Starting out, he would take his portfolio from publisher to publisher looking for work. Getting nowhere, his list was down to two more services. He was close to the Vin Sullivan studio so he dropped in. As fate would have it, Vin recognized the talent and immediately put Dick to work; a partnership that lasted a long time. Getting work, Dick decided to ball up his list and toss it. One last quick look and Dick realized that the next name on his list was the Simon and Kirby studios. He always wondered about the what if. Did he have what it took to work for Simon and Kirby. He did get the chance to work with Joe Simon years later when Joe resurrected the old Black Magic title, and his career was always linked to Jack when Marvel came to the fore. The comic biz was always a small world, where most talents eventually meet and connect.
Comic readers come and go; they age and move on to other pursuits; girls, jobs, cars, girls, school and the other symbols of maturation, did I mention girls! It’s been said that every five years produces a new class of comic readers, unaware of the legacy of the artform. It had been just about five years when Marvel started reprinting their original tales. They sold well as the rise of Marvel’s fandom meant that most new fans had never really seen the earliest Kirby and Ditko/Lee stories. While Goodman and Lee were happy with the results, the artists were livid. Perhaps even more odious than the lack of credit was the reprint fee controversy. The idea that the company can make unlimited new money by reusing existing art without ever reimbursing the artist was never even broached. Why should the companies continue to make new money using existing art, yet not offer the artists, new money? In the movie and TV industries, this subject had been resolved for quite a while, always in the artists favor, residuals for reruns were mandatory, but the comic industry was a dinosaur, and reprints had long been a common way of cheap revenue. Worse, the artists were in reality competing against themselves for sales off the stands.
From the AFTRA rule book:
Residuals are paid to actors when their performance is used AGAIN, or in a new way that was not intended when you originally worked. For example: * A re-run of a television show * A feature film that was released in the movie theater, but is now being released on DVD * A television Movie of the Week that is now being sold on DVD * A second use of a commercial (or a third use, or 300th use!) * A TV series that is now being used on the internet as a “Webisode” (a.k.a. “new media”) * A TV series that is sold into syndication * A network TV show that gets shown again on a cable channel
The really great news? This process goes on FOR LIFE. You will continue to get paid smaller and smaller amounts each time the film is shown, forever.
The rights won by actors had no impact on the graphic artists.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that some artists won the right for residuals, and even then, not for all occasions. It certainly wasn’t back-dated for the original 1960’s books. DC paid some small residuals for merchandise to Jack in the 1980’s, but it was done as a gift, not a right.
Dick Ayers was so devastated by the constant reprints of his work that he began sending Marvel a bill for each reprinted story-which Marvel ignored! Once Dick confronted production Manager John Verpoorten about the increase in reprints and John made it clear. “the old stories sell as good as the new!” Dick retorted, “I should be paid for each reprinted page! How am I to support my family with such a low income while Marvel profits reprinting and selling my reprinted art- and don’t share that profit with me?!?” Dick Ayers quit working for Marvel, and was later blacklisted for suing for those same reprint fees–he lost.
The company laughs while the artists seethe – New cover-same story by Kirby – Lots of Kirby for 25 cents
Of all the artists, it was Kirby who was most affected by the reprints since he had contributed so much of those early stories, but Jack was stoic and just kept working in the dungeon-as he called his basement studio. And the work was the best ever done for comics-by far. The FF hit a pinnacle of unequaled creativity that covered about 20 issues where every issue brought forth new characters and concepts that would resonate for years. Stan was more astute. “Jack is a storyteller in pictures. After a while, I only had to give him a couple of words on what I thought the plot would be and he would do the whole thing. He was so inventive, He kept getting new ideas, and whenever he’d get one he’d put it in the next story. And I’d say “Jack, save that for the next issue or the one after that. It’s too much.” Instead of new books, Kirby kept introducing new heroes in the Fantastic Four. The Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, the first black hero, the Black Panther, and Him-soon to be Warlock, as well as new villains such as Blastaar, Galactus, the Frightful Four, Klaw-the master of sound, and Quasimodo- the villainous machine made man. Perhaps the pinnacle was reached in what became known as the Galactus trilogy (FF#48-50) which introduced a new villain- Galactus- a godlike being to whom the Earth held no more significance than a McDonald’s Happy Meal. His herald, (the Silver Surfer) who searched for just those planets that might satiate his master, is transformed by the loving humanity of Alicia Masters and turns against his master to try to intercede in the Earth’s behalf. Even the power of the Surfer is nothing to Galactus and he continues his work to drain the world of all life essence until the Human Torch returns from an intergalactic search with a weapon of such magnitude that even Galactus relented, but not before banishing his traitorous herald to remain imprisoned on the Earth.
Enter Norrin Radd – Silver Surfer gets the prize
No series could ever come close to matching this outburst of creativity found in the FF -except possibly Kirby’s Thor. During this same period Kirby introduced Hercules, Tana Nile, Ulik, Ego-the living planet, the High Evolutionary, and in perhaps the grandest story arc ever done, the Ragnarok epic with Mangog. Not to be outdone, Captain America would reunite with the Red Skull, and meet Them, Batroc-the leaper, Modok, the Sleepers, and Zemo. It was such a burst of creation that Stan Lee became lost for words in his feeble previews of coming attractions blurbs. “I’ll create a concept just to keep from getting bored.” Kirby noted when asked in an interview with The Comics Journal about this ramped up cosmicology.
TCJ: …back in ‘65’and ’66, you started to get on this mythology-fantasy kick. Who was responsible for that –you or Stan?
KIRBY: “Both of us, in a way. I researched it and gave my version of it, and Stan gave his version of it. Stan humanized it in a way where, for instance, I might be concerned about Thor’s relationship to the other Gods, I might bring up a Ulik or I might bring up something out of the wild blue yonder, like the Oracle-that great big thing which nobody knew anything about. I try to fathom it myself. And Stan would come back down to Earth and find Thor’s relationship with Earth people. In other words, we go up and down the spectrum always trying to find something new in it.” In another interview Kirby explained: I’ve been a student of science fiction for a long long time, and I can tell you that I’m well versed in science fact and science fiction. I’m 71 years old and so I’ve seen all this new conception. I used to read the first science fiction books, and I began to learn about the universe myself and take it seriously. I know the names of the stars. I know how near or far the heavenly bodies are from our own planet. I know our own place in the universe. I can feel the vastness of it inside myself. I began to realize with each passing fact what a wonderful and awesome place the universe is, and that helped me in comics because I WAS LOOKING FOR THE AWESOME. I found it in Thor. I found it in Galactus.”
As glorious as the concepts, the execution was even better. To many, Kirby’s art in the mid-sixties has never been rivaled. That bulkiness that Jack began adding to his characters now reached an apex. His characters looked like they could leave footprints in solid concrete.
Yet they maintained a sense of movement and fluidity. It was unparalleled in its power, grace, and grandeur. Kirby created universes, and constructs of such dynamics and imagination that they are still the measure which all else is compared. Stan Lee in perhaps his greatest accomplishment paired Kirby up with his finest corps of inkers. The Fantastic Four got Joe Sinnott, the most precise, clean and expressive inker to ever grace a Kirby pencil, with all deference to the great Wally Wood. Vince Colleta, the most maligned inker to ever work on Kirby added an illustrative texture and archaic feel to the mythical milieu of Asgard that is still unrivaled. And Syd Shores, and Frank Giacoia both gave Captain America a grit and sheen combined with a Golden Age solidity and weight that worked well with Kirby’s more Earth bound warrior. In a three year period, Kirby equaled the grace and power of Alex Raymond’s space opera, and the mythical epicness of Hal Fosters Prince Valiant, and the exotic locales and thrill-a-minute adventures of Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.
Jack found the awesome and showed it to us
Though it’s doubtful that Kirby had consciously mimicked his childhood idols, it is a might coincidental. Kirby became the artist and inspiration that the next generation of artists would emulate. When asked about his changing styles, Kirby replied. “You’re goddamn right, and it might change again if I live that long.” “I won’t live or die by what any man made up. I live or die by what I see, that’s all.” “I feel I see a lot because I analyze a lot. I see the same things you do but maybe I get more time to analyze it whereas you might not. So I sit and think and it’s as simple as that.” “I feel I’m God because these things are living or moving to my concepts. Good or bad, that’s how they come out. I can even punish them by erasing them but I’m not that mad yet. I like to make them as perfect as I can, and I feel now that’s what God is doing with us.”
The reward for all this hard work was obvious. Sometime in 1966-67 Marvel took over as the sales leader among comic publishers. While DC was mired in a decade long slump, Marvel’s sales had improved on a consistent 45% angle. This improvement started just as Jack Kirby had entered the picture. There really isn’t any other way to look at it except as starting when Jack Kirby took over. The rise started in the late 1950’s, before Stan and Jack collaborated on the super-heroes. Marvel as a company hadn’t made any changes that could account for the rise except for hiring Jack Kirby. The most noticeable increase started in the monster books; it really took off with the coming of the super heroes. As Marvel grew, the new artists continued this trend. The one constant was Kirby’s other worldly imagination, which kept the books fresh and new.
Jim Steranko talked about Jack and a memorable meeting with Jack while Jim was working for Joe Simon at Harvey.
“The more we talked, the deeper my understanding became of the man and his work. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Kirby efforts clearly transcend writing, illustrating and storytelling. The enduring quality of his comics and career are testimony to the multi-faceted approach apparent for half a century.
From Blue Bolt to the Forever People, Kirby functions as architect, satirist, and philosopher, as a pop media visionary with extraordinary range and depth.” ….”Like the great artists of every age, Kirby and his work has continued to change and mature, appropriately evolving through each decade. He has changed too. By example, he has proven the imagination knows no bounds by taking us to countless fantastic worlds that would not exist had Kirby not created them. He has spent a lifetime turning two-dimensional comic book clichés into surprisingly fresh situations with wit, intelligence and style…..The shockwave of Kirby’s creations will continue to resonate as long as heroes resist oppression and champion the quest for freedom. Perhaps more than any other 20th century artist, Kirby is responsible for a modern mythology that has touched millions of readers on every continent. No artist has ever done as much, as quickly and as masterfully as the man who has justifiably been christened by his peers. “The King.”
In the late 60s, a young artist wanna-be from Detroit had contacted Kirby for a local fanzine. Greg Theakston would later graduate high school and move to New York. Once there he would join Neal Adams little band of crazies. Yet he would always maintain contact with Jack. Jack seemed to enjoy this contact with the younger generation and he shared many confidences with the young man. Greg Theakston would take it upon himself to showcase Kirby as the primal genius of the comic book industry. His reproductions of Jack’s earliest work and his personal reminiscences helped form Jack’s legacy. It’s hard to understand Kirby’s place without Greg’s publishing. Jack rewarded his loyalty by giving him inking jobs, and a chance to paint Kirby’s covers.
Kirby’s pencils were entering a new phase of expressionism. Musculature that defied human description, Machines and buildings that defied belief, but they worked. In fact, JimSteranko asked Kirby about his machines and said; “Jack confirmed my suspicion that every weapon, vehicle and device in his stories was designed to work, not merely appear workable.” Most of the Kirby iconography that defines the greatness of Jack Kirby can be first found in this later period. Kirby krackel, Kirby dots, Kirby squiggles, Kirby architecture, Kirbytech as well as the most expressive forced perspective ever. Kirby’s costume design was at its most expressive. Kirby began experimenting with collages-using them as backgrounds for other dimensions and worlds without limits. His women were a perfect mixture of grace and strength, unrivaled in their power, beauty and femininity.
His multiple Universes dazzled the young minds and ignited the imaginations of all the readers. Just as Kirby’s lithe, loosey-goosey characters and Art Deco backgrounds came to symbolize Golden Age comics, his new blockier, more powerful figures with full psychedelic vistas and photo montage came to represent the Marvel Age of comics. This stuff wasn’t found in nature—it emanated from Kirby’s brain.
Strength, looseness, and a pyschedelic dot pattern background – all symbolism and surrealism
Jim Steranko inked Kirby on a few issues of Strange Tales. He recalls, “Unlike many pencilers, Kirby put everything on the page, yet never even short-cutting black areas with the common practice of indicating them with an ‘X.’ He felt a page was incomplete until a certain dramatic and visual balance was achieved. His pages rippled with integrity, crackled with the kind of power that was best expressed by his pencil line as it touched the board—much like a jazz musician blowing an improvised passage. Capturing the magic of that pencil line in ink is almost an impossibility, especially by another artist with a different sensibility,”
Mike Esposito had inked over everybody, and was considered a top talent. Yet he had his problems. He told an interviewer;
“Kirby was dynamic. When I inked Kirby, Stan would bawl me out and say ‘What are you doing? You’re drawing a real nose, it’s not supposed to be a real nose! They’re two little holes.’
“I was taking things too literally, and was trying to draw a real nose, but that was not Kirby.
“Frank Giacoia came by one day and said ‘Mike, just paint by number.’
“Frank inked all that stuff. He said ‘Don’t try to create your own look, just follow the lines, and it will all fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle.’ He was right. You don’t draw on top of Jack Kirby, because it won’t work.”
John Romita, the consummate pro, who became art director explains at a Kirby panel about inking Kirby’s new expressionistic style.
“Jack Kirby did a formularized, direct, explicit pencil technique. …a lot of pencilers are so vague and do three lines and give you (the inker) a choice of one. Some of them do greys on their pencils and you have to decide how to make them black and white. Jack Kirby never left you that problem. Every single thing was there, including Kirby’s Cosmic Crap.
Even the colorist understood majesty
I remember all the cosmic effects he made. I used to spend days trying to explain that to some of my trainees at Marvel, how to do that and what the pattern was. Because they thought if they did a lot of big, black blobs, they were going to get Kirby’s cosmic effect. And they couldn’t understand. I said, There’s a pattern there. Just look for it. There’s a pattern he used. He’s not creating black spots. He’s creating white areas by putting black where there’s no light” Nobody understood it. Jack did. He created it. He made it work and he made it graphic, and he could produce it in a split-second, without any mess and clogging. It was wonderful stuff. But what Herb (Trimpe) is passing up is that only a few guys, like he and Frank Giacoia, and Mike Royer could understand that explicit direct black and white style. And the only reason I put Vince Colletta down was because he used to put a lot of lines where there didn’t need to be lines. There didn’t need to be a lot of hatch (cross-hatching) All he needed to do was the blacks that Jack inscribed. It was a diagram, it was a natural gold mine, and a lot of guys overlooked it.”
But it wasn’t just the changes that Stan Lee begged Jack to do, plus the layouts and corrections for others. Stan also had a habit of having his studio art director John Romita make silly changes that Stan thought would help the storytelling. The problem was more that Stan couldn’t always follow Kirby’s plotlines.
John grudgingly remembers;
“ Stan wasn’t down on anyone’s artwork. He never changed anybody’s artwork because he disagreed with the artwork; it was the storyline that he changed. The artwork had to be changed because he was changing the storyline. I changed a lot of Jack Kirby, but not because the artwork was wrong. Stan wanted a new expression, or he wanted to change the position of a character, because he was always changing a storyline. What Jack would send in was always invariably different than what Stan had asked for. Stan would write another story, and I would have to do changes to make it work. People think that because I was art director, I made that judgment, but I never did. I wouldn’t have changed Jack Kirby’s artwork if my life depended on it! But when Stan wanted a change in story, I had to change the artwork. I changed Colan, I changed Barry Smith — did you ever see those embarrassing Barry Smith covers with my faces on them?”
Romita, in an interview was asked about when he became the official art director, his answer is very enlightening.
Romita replied; “It was never official. It was a handshake. It was so unofficial that Stan used to be paid as art director. I never got a penny for being art director.
That’s not a very good arrangement at all, replied the interviewer.
“I used to say that Stan would give titles instead of salary increases. He would call a person an assistant editor, but not give them a raise. He used to give us nicknames instead of raises. [Laughter.] That’s why I got so many nicknames.” (Stan would say the same thing)
So Stan was getting the editor’s salary, the writer’s salary and the art director’s salary, while having others do at least two of the jobs.
Arlen Schumer noted art designer, critic and pop culture observer notes;
Kirby was probably inspired by the first quasar photographs published in scientific journals around 1965 to create his patented energy field of patterned black dots that has become affectionately dubbed “Kirby Krackle.” One of the first major displays of Kirby Krackle emanated from Galactus’ hands in the full-page panel found in FF # 50 (May 1966). But it was seven months later, in FF #57 (Dec. ’66), that Kirby codified all of his graphic power and energy ideas (including his trademark background “burst” lines) in the four-panel sequence of Dr. Doom transferring the Silver Surfer’s “power cosmic” to himself, climaxing with the staggering full-page portrayal of a triumphant Doom, aswirl in Kirby Krackle, astride the fallen Surfer: the most dramatic definition, in a single image, of victory and defeat in the history of comics – if not art itself.
Kirby’s machinery – a.k.a. “Kirbytech” – was never drawn to look functional; the moebius strip-like masses of mazed metalwork that were a mainstay of his oeuvre were simply stylized designwork, as much a recognizable architectural motif as Alexander Calder’s mobiles or Louise Nevelson’s abstract, sculptural boxes. The endpapers of the Jack Kirby sketchbook (Jack Kirby’s Heroes and Villains, Pure Imagination, 1987) are perhaps the purest examples of the graphic design of Kirbytech, unfettered by figures and word balloons.
Decorating Kirbytech – and everything else, whether it be flesh or fabric – was the omnipresent Kirby squiggle, a vertical stroke interrupted by, well, a squiggle. It could add shine to machinery or sinew to musculature; it was Kirby’s singular, graphic signature. The oscilloscope-like arrow shapes that Kirby frequently employed as well some say were influenced by the Art Deco designs prevalent in Kirby’s environment during his formative years, while others maintain they had an almost Aztec-like design quality – though how the son of European immigrants raised on the Lower East Side of New York City without a college education could’ve come up with those remains a mystery.
Character made for squiggles
Another recurring graphic device of Kirby’s that bore no relation to reality were his shadows and spotting of blacks: artfully placed circular, curved and arched shapes that served to balance the black and white compositions of each panel and page more than they delineated accurate castings of light. Kirby always bent and exaggerated reality, like his square fingers and blocky knees, to suit his wishes as an artist; yet when he wanted to portray the verisimilitude of real life – like in his autobiographical “Street Code” story (Argosy, 1980), or any of his Earth-interludes in Thor – the results were quietly breathtaking, the converse of his cosmic panoramas.
As a graphic storyteller, Kirby never really bothered with panel shapes and page designs that broke out of the traditional box format; he believed more in the proscenium-arch theory of comic book storytelling, in which what is designed in the interior of each panel is more important than the exterior shape of the panel itself. That stays constant – like a stage’s proscenium arch – so that the reader focuses more on what is happening within; the story itself. At a time when firebrands like Jim Steranko and Neal Adams (and Will Eisner before them) were radically redesigning panels and pages in the late Sixties to make them more “cinematic,” Kirby was content to let his drawing do the talking in standard four-, five- and six-panel pages, interspersed with random full-pagers and double-page spreads, which were often spectacular.
The abstract photo collages that Kirby started to do in Fantastic Four around 1964 (his first collage cover was FF #33, Dec. ’64) were startling to his readers, for they were unlike anything any artist had attempted in mainstream superhero comics before; astute comic historians could recall photo collages used by Eisner in his Spirit stories and Harvey Kurtzman in the pages of Mad years prior, but they were nothing like Kirby’s. His were freewheeling, frenetic photo-fests that often subverted average objects, culled from consumer magazines as popular as Life Magazine, or as edgy as Playboy, into imagery as otherworldly as his own drawings. “Collages were another way of finding new avenues of entertainment,” Kirby said in an old interview. “I felt that magazine reproduction could handle the change. It added an extra dimension to comics. I wanted to see if it could materialize, and it did. I loved doing collages – I made a lot of good ones.” Kirby’s Krazy Kollages led to the development of groundbreaking original designs like the alternative dimension the Negative Zone in the FF and Ego, the Living Planet in Thor
These are among the graphic designs of Jack Kirby that rank him as high on the totem of 20th Century American Graphic Design as his hyperbolic drawing ranks him in the Comic Book Hall of Fame. To consider the latter without the former is to overlook some of the more uniquely artistic attributes that do indeed make Kirby “King.”
In the late ‘60s, fandom had begun to organize. What was once myriad points of light became a focused laser. From local comic clubs, Comic Cons sprang up where fans could meet, and buy and trade old books, and talk to industry pros about their favorite characters. Kirby found his audience. Jack reveled in the attention and popularity of his creations, but something sinister caught his eye. During the Golden Age it was customary for the publishers to backstock the old original art. After it was printed it was thrown on a shelf. Joe Simon tells about how during rainstorms the ceilings would sometimes leak, and they would throw original art on the puddle to sop up the water. Flo Steinberg says that they would store it and occasionally she would grab an armful of art and old scripts and toss them out. Stan frequently gave pages to subscribers and advertisers as gifts. Yet with the growth of the conventions, prized art was even more valuable than the books. Jack noticed on many dealer tables pages of his original art-selling for good money. Fans would bring over pages for him to sign, and Kirby questioned where they came from. Dealers would quickly hide pages when Kirby approached. Many stories began circulating about huge caches being secreted out of Marvel’s offices and offered on the street like drugs to junkies. Other staffers finding stacks by the back door that they “liberated” from destruction. Kirby asked Stan for his artwork back only to be refused blaming the need and habits of the business as the reasons. Jim Steranko also noticed, and when he asked Stan, he was also refused. Jim was not one to take no for an answer. Jim confronted Stan Lee and told him that he was going to the tax board and tell them about this valuable stash of artwork that had no taxes paid. Stan quickly told Jim that he could pick up his artwork after the process was done, but Marvel would not help in any way. Kirby persisted to no end. Jack’s art leaked out in droves. Kirby learned that some of the inkers had received a share of the art, but not Kirby himself. The camel’s back started bending.
Copyright law allowed for the creator of a property to regain control after 28 years with a couple exceptions. The claimant must have been one of the authors, and he must not have been an employee or designated as a “work for hire” freelancer. Joe Simon, who had kept busy doing Sick Magazine and the occasional Harvey editing job, decided that he wanted to reclaim Captain America. It was Joe’s claim that he had created Cap in 1940 while freelancing for Timely. For Timely’s part, they claimed that Simon’s participation was done as an editor and covered by the “work for hire” clauses so Joe was prohibited from making a claim. In 1966, hoping to catch onto the planned Captain America film, Joe sued Marvel and in 1967, the case was moved to the Federal Courts who rule on copyright matters. Kirby could not join Joe in this claim as he was a salaried employee at the time Cap was created. According to Joe, Martin Goodman called Jack in and told him that Joe was suing for Cap and was trying to cut Kirby out of the loop. So Martin promised Kirby that if he helped out Marvel that Goodman would reward Kirby. Joe gives the impression that Kirby stabbed him in the back, but there is no record of Kirby signing anything, or giving a deposition of any kind where Kirby undermines anything claimed by Simon. In fact, there is no record of Kirby doing anything on this case. Amazingly, a simple phone call would have ended any dispute. The case was resolved when Marvel and Simon came to an out of court agreement where Joe would receive an undisclosed sum of money if Simon would end his claim and agree that his work at Timely was “for hire”. Kirby might have received some sort of payment for a promise never to join in a future claim for copyrights on Captain America.
On Broadway in 1967, a small play appeared, written by Bruce Jay Friedman—a writer who worked for Martin Goodman a long time—mostly in his sweat magazine division. The play is called Scuba Duba a witty examination of racial tension and obsession. The titular character was played by Cleavon Little, later renowned for his work with Mel Brooks. This play received rave reviews, and featured quite possibly the first nude scene. Mr. Friedman also wrote the play Steambath and has a long connection to Broadway. The play did not last long, but long enough for Life Magazine to do a write-up and review which featured a photo that by itself meant nothing, but 4 years later would be reinterpreted by Jack Kirby into a continuing character in his most personal work. It showed Cleavon Little as an obsessed scuba attired black guy bounding in his ridiculous flippers with a large mask perched on his head.
Brian Epstein died in Aug. 1967. Unknown to most, this new need to run their own business tore the Beatles apart; unofficially, Paul became the guiding hand behind the Beatles. He organized studio times, and album creating. John went along for the ride, but he says that the times at the studio were no longer group happenings, but rather members of the band playing back-up to individual members’ songs. Togetherness was a thing of the past. In the name of the Beatles, the members were really four solo acts pressed into one album. John was the first to publish a solo product, with the usually diffident Ringo Starr following suit. Paul and his new wife, Linda bought a small four channel recorder and started doodling and creating a private collection of songs. Yet despite trying to stay together, members started moving in and out as egos took over. George left one recording in a huff, and there was actually talk of Eric Clapton being called in to replace him.
Ned Pines had created comic books in the Golden Age. His line became known by the unwieldy name of Standard/Better/Nedor. He had gotten into the burgeoning paperback industry when he opened Popular Library paperbacks. These were some of the schlockiest titles going; pulp magazines without interior spot illustrations.
They loved them some headlights and racy blurbs
In early 1968, Perfect Film and Chemical Corp. bought them outright. Perfect Film was a securities corporation known for buying troubled companies and selling them for quick profits. Perfect Film was talked into lending Curtis Publishing Corp. 5 million dollars.
Curtis was a long time publishing and distributing company known best for its leading account the venerable Saturday Evening Post. Curtis had been hit with a devastating 3 million dollar defamation suit from a recent article about baseball and fixing games. In exchange for the loan, Martin Ackerman, president of Perfect would become head honcho at Curtis. The court case ended up in the Supreme Court which decided that Saturday Evening Post was liable for the 3 million dollar. Sales on Saturday Evening Post were falling precipitously, and combined with the lawsuit, Curtis was unable to repay the loan, and Perfect Film took control of the company. This made Perfect Film a distributor without product to distribute.
1947-07-26: First US article on bikini. – 1964 Beatles on top
What was needed was a profitable publisher with a bad distribution set-up. Perhaps due to the Wall Street Journal article, Goodman’s predicament was well known. He was selling tons of books, but still limited by the distributor to amount of titles he could produce. In a marriage made in heaven, Perfect Film bought Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company. Suddenly, Curtis, which had a huge network due to Saturday Evening Post’s worldwide market, had truckloads of material –between Marvel’s comics and Popular Library’s paperbacks. It’s unknown why, but the transition from IND to Curtis would take a year or so, but Marvel ignored DC’s title limitation and immediately instituted a huge expansion. DC probably allowed it in order to maximize money while they were still the distributor.
1968 explosion-big premieres
When Marvel ended the distribution contract with DC they began an expansion. All the super-heroes that appeared in shared books soon got their own book, plus new series like the Silver Surfer, Captain Savage, and Captain Marvel arrived. A slew of reprints titles also filled the stands, offering new readers a glimpse of the earliest Marvel days.
Marvel’s success continued unabated, and the number of monthly publications grew. Stan’s merry little crew couldn’t handle all the new content and Stan was forced to expand his bullpen. Such was the competition for competent artists that DC and Marvel had entered into a gentleman’s agreement not to rob each others stable.
Outside veterans like George Tuska, John Romita, and Gene Colan had snuck in often using aliases to hide their freelancing, as well as former fanzine writer Roy Thomas to assist Stan on the writing end.
Stan’s soap opera style struggled to keep up with Kirby’s grandeur, at times the dialogue was in obvious disagreement with what Kirby drew. It’s almost like Lee sometimes didn’t understand the story that Jack was telling. The magical symbiosis of the earlier Marvel period was beginning to fray as the visions no longer meshed. Stan was having trouble fitting in his touches of humanity among the cosmic epicness in Kirby’s vistas. More and more Stan interfered with Kirby’s flow and demanded pages be redrawn. It appears that Lee was trying to regain his editorial command at Kirby’s expense. Stan had Jack redraw his planned origin of Galactus and insert it into a Thor story. Jack’s plans for Him were dashed when Lee took the character away from him, and muddied the story. And worse, Kirby’s vision for the Silver Surfer was derailed when Lee decided to give the character his own book, with a Lee written origin and had John Buscema draw it. Captain America was taken from Kirby and given to the young upstart Jim Steranko. Jack lost his connection to his children. This loss of control for his characters became Kirby’s main point of contention. Jack could handle the lack of credit, but he couldn’t handle the meddling in his stories. “I created an army of characters, and now my connection with them is lost” Jack called Greg Theakston when Thor was taken from him and said that this was the last straw. With Roz’s urging Jack made a decision to limit the amount of original characters and concepts and force Stan to come up with the plots. “Why give Marvel more Silver Surfers!” she said. This change of method can easily be seen when you compare the burst of imagination before and the lack of same during the late1960’s work. No new characters and the plots simply repeat themselves with the same overworked villains. The books seemed bereft of life and heart. Interesting to see this happen just when Stan Lee was made to plot and write the books. What didn’t degrade was Kirby’s art. He simply couldn’t cheat on the boards. It was strong until the very end. Kirby’s imagination wasn’t quieted; his new ideas were being set aside for another day. Round this time, the comic companies decided to save money by having the artists draw on a smaller art board. This affected the amount of detail that the artist could put into each panel. Kirby also noticed problems with his vision, he was losing acumen in one eye. He struggled to maintain his usual control but the smaller page made him draw in a somewhat more cartoony style, and his work looked simpler. In order to compensate he just used fewer panels per page. He lost a lot of the physical detail and his physiology became blockier and geometric. His muscularity became slashes and squiggles rather than rendered shapes and textured surfaces. His new abstraction helped maintain the flow of action that the lost detail took away.
Kirby loved the expanded stories of Captain America
Marvel’s good fortune was soon overcrowded by the senseless assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on a Memphis Hotel balcony. Cities erupted once more. The new owner Perfect Film liked what it saw, and was told that Stan Lee was the brains and muscle behind the growth of the company and the artists were simple illustrators of no import. Sometime in the mid 60’s Kirby had signed a personal services contract that bound him to Marvel. That contract was coming up for renewal, yet no new contract was forthcoming. The timing coincided with Martin Goodman negotiating the sale of the company to a new owner in 1968. The value of his company had never been higher-thanks to Stan, Steve and Jack. Jack was hoping for a benefit package and perhaps some action on the long promised royalties. Yet in the changeover period, Kirby’s demands were shunted aside as inconsequential. They paid no nevermind to Jack Kirby’s demands.
Starting in books cover dated August 1969; Marvel had finally started out of DC’s distribution yoke. Jack got the chance to expand the Cap stories and really unleash the action. With expanded two page spreads. The double splashes restored the loss details seen in the single pages. Cap never looked so good, heroic, and unbeatable. Kirby now had three full series. The art was astounding, but the stories had become repetitively turgid. Perhaps Stan Lee had once again stretched himself too far. Having to supply the stories himself, Stan lost any semblance of originality and innovation. Then disaster struck; perhaps coincidentally, for the first time in 8 years, sales of the individual books started falling; almost 15-20% percent. They had ridden an unparalleled stretch of growth; never seen in the comic industry. Remarkably, despite adding in a dozen or so new books, like Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, Captain Savage, the expanded super hero books, some new fantasy titles, and a plethora of reprints, total sales fell for the first times this decade. I have tried to look for outside reasons for this decline, but could find none. With the new distributor, Marvel books were easier to find than ever, a price raise did occur, but not until a year or so later and I see no affect with the additional .03 raise. One would think that with a dozen new books, these would cover any dip in the other books, but the fall was immediate and across the board. The only change I can figure was the change from Jack Kirby plots to Stan Lee’s plotting had stretched the writer too far, and damaged the brand. That no one ever praises the stories from 1968-1970 is a telling factor of just how low the product had fallen. That late period run of Fantastic Four is considered a dry period of the series with little originality and no drawing power for new readers. Thor had not offered anything exciting, getting by on the likes of the Thermal Man, Kronin Krask, Crypto-Man, or mundane returns of Ulik, or the Wrecker. 1969-70 Marvel had become that “vast wasteland” the same bankrupt literary desert that DC had reached a decade earlier. The decline wasn’t killing yet; Marvel’s freefall actually wouldn’t start until after Jack Kirby left the company. During Jack’s tenure, Marvel’s sales had steadily risen from less than 3 million units a month to a staggering 9 million units, only to see it fall back to 6 million despite Marvel’s attempt at flooding the stands again. Kirby’s foundation was broken and withering. FF lost 60+ thousand copies per month, Cap 50 thousand, and Thor; another staggering 60 thousand issues. During this time Marvel responded by for the first time in recent memory, they cancelled series; Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Captain Savage, Nick Fury all bit the dust, X-Men went into reprint mode. The art, by stalwarts like Kirby, Kane, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko remained stellar, but the stories were mindless, rudderless, pap. They lacked the clarity, excitement, and vision that Kirby had supplied the early stories. Stan Lee’s voice was the same, but what was missing was Kirby’s imagination and vision. The bird stopped soaring.
Note the crash starting in 1968 just as Stan was forced to provide stories—new owners– this chart doesn’t show individual books—even worse since this coincided with more titles. Note Marvel’s rise coincided with Kirby’s tenure.
Jack and Joe Sinnott get it right – Jack and Joe finally meet in 1972
As the young Lisa grew, she began to suffer from asthma, just as her mother once did. It was suggested that a move to a warmer drier climate might be beneficial. There may have been other reasons for Kirby to consider moving to California. For instance, it has been reported that Kirby wanted to get closer to Hollywood. Either way, after Martin Goodman sold Marvel to Perfect Film and Chemical Corp. Kirby felt even more estranged as the new owners had no clue as to who Kirby was and what he contributed. So in January 1969, the Kirbys packed up and moved to the West Coast.
Shortly after the move, Thor was scheduled to be given to another artist. John Buscema had been molded to take over the strip. Stan had some other ideas for Jack. Perhaps the new Amazing Adventures that would contain the oft promised new adventures of the Inhumans. Perhaps to help some of the flagging titles, Kirby is given stories for odd titles. Kirby called historian Greg Theakston screaming that this was the last straw. But it wasn’t; finally the new suits at Marvel sent Kirby a new contract. Kirby was flabbergasted, the new contract actually was worse than the previous agreement. No raise, no mention of benefits, and a new layer of legal sanctions against any copyright claims that Kirby might make at some later period. It seemed that Joe Simon’s claim for Captain America had stirred up a hornets’ nest. Supposedly Marvel also worked out deals with Bill Everett and Carl Burgos.
The country was burning! A culture war that began soon after the assassination of JFK became a perfect storm of schism eruptions; Young vs. old, drugs vs. alcohol, hawks vs. doves, black vs. white, feminist marches, even gay rights demands. Fueled by horrible TV news films from Viet Nam, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. the young generation rose up and began burning down a country that had lost its mojo. The cultural centers had become the colleges and Universities, and the rise of the drug culture and anti-war movements led to sit-ins and shut downs that paralyzed and polarized the centers of higher learning.
As a mirror of society it was not surprising that comic books would reflect this cultural upheaval, especially with Stan’s New York liberalism. Captain America was no longer a right wing poster boy; he began to question. Even Spider-Man, had lost his Ditko tight-assed nature; and adopted Romita’s fashionably longer hair and swinging with-it style. With Marvel Comics having such a huge presence on these campuses, it was not surprising that Marvel Comics would come thru this turmoil relatively unscathed. I think it’s the man against society nature of super heroes. While not overtly anti-establishment, the stories had a counter culture ambience that the college age kids felt; their stories always seemed anti-establishment in some measure. Marvel also embraced the multi-cultural make-up of the country, more than its competition. A small group of readers found specific anti-establishment fervor in a budding offshoot called underground comics that focused on the sexual, drug, and anti-war counter culture of the young. This sub genre never made any real splash sales wise, but it did help to ease up the restrictive nature of the comic code and allowed both DC and Marvel to expand their stories into more controversial and “relevant” areas such as racial bigotry and drug abuse.
Mid ‘60’s on, the success at Marvel was staggering, with sales rising exponentially, but this rising tide didn’t lift all boats. The rest of the comic industry continued in a slow funk. Dell Comics was the most successful comic company during the 1950’s. Originally a pulp publisher founded by George Delacourt, it was an early venturer into comic books when it published Popular Comics in 1936. It quickly became a major player when in 1938 it partnered with Western Publishing. Another subsidiary was K.K. Publications, named after Kay Kamen, manager of character merchandising at Walt Disney Studios from 1933-1949. Western Publishing also produced children’s books and family related entertainment products as Golden Books Family.
The corporate structure was unique, Dell was the financing division and Western Publication thru several divisions was the editorial sector – in charge of the actual production of the books. Thus we would find comic stories with several different imprints on them, plus Big Little Books and slick magazines with Whitman or KK Pub. in the indicia.
Dell – The 40 ton bull in the shop
Dell Comics was best known for its licensed material, most notably the animated characters from Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Walter Lantz Studio, along with many movie and television properties such as the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Howdy Doody, Yogi Bear and other Hanna-Barbera characters; most notably under the Four Color banner. They were considered safe for all readers, and they were so clean, the company never even felt threatened enough to combine with the other publishers under the Comics Code Authority. They had several titles that sold well over a million copies a month for a long time. No barber shop could be found without a stack of Donald Duck, Rocky and Bullwinkle, or Zorro comics for reading.
In 1962, the two divisions had a dispute over money, and the decision was to divide into two separate companies. The end of Four Color in 1962 coincided with the end of the partnership with Western, which took most of its licensed properties and its original material and created its own imprint, Gold Key Comics.
Dell Comics continued for another 11 years continuing with licensed television and motion picture adaptations (including Mission: Impossible, Ben Casey, Burke’s Law, Doctor Kildare) and a few generally poorly received original titles. In response to the burgeoning super hero craze, Dell additionally attempted to do several superhero titles, including, Nukla, Fab 4, and Brain Boy, and a critically panned trio of titles based on the Universal Pictures monsters Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf that recast the characters as superheroes. Gold Key had better luck with their super heroes as titles like Dr Solar, Man of the Atom, Magnus, Robot Fighter, and Turok, Son of Stone, produced in California, lasted for quite a while with exquisite art by the likes of Dan Spiegel, and Russ Manning. K.K. Publications appears to have become defunct during the mid/late 1960s. Unfortunately, their fiscal problems meant they could no longer compete nationally.
Though both divisions would continue well into the Seventies, the divided companies had lost their luster and found distribution problems that robbed them of their market position. The young child focus of their books were increasingly aimed at a smaller market share as the general age of comic readers increased from 7-10 to 12-16. The growth of Marvel eroded the natural audience for the kiddie books. The large college age audience found little in Dell’s repertoire for them.
The other colossus of the comic industry DC had a different problem, it was simply getting old, and sailing by on its Golden Age laurels. Though most historians credit DC with initiating the Silver Age, with the re-introduction of Flash in Showcase #4, the fact is that the new books were good, but not great sellers. Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom never had sales that threatened Superman or Batman’s position as the top sellers. Justice League of America may have come closest, but by the early 60’s all were losing readers. The whole DC line was leaking oil. Batman was scheduled for cancellation a couple times. By the 60’s, the romance genre was moribund and on its last legs. Its romance division was near the bottom until DC bought Young Romance and Young Love from Prize Publications. But these were no longer the Simon and Kirby Young Love and Romance. These two titles were absorbed into DC’s lackluster romance line and produced by the same stable of tired writers and artists. Their humor titles, such as Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope were also struggling. The sixties brought a new audience not readily familiar or in tune with the older slapstick hokey comedians. DC was stuck in the ’50s.
DC’s corporate structure had been intact for almost 20 years, and the lack of new blood was showing. All the editors were in a holding pattern busily redoing the plots and stories from the last decade. Batman and Superman repeatedly fighting the silliest aliens ever created. The characters never changed. A story from 1963 could just as easily have been printed in 1955, with no one the wiser. The art was always top notch with pros like Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Carmine Infantino and Curt Swan producing solid but uninspiring art. There was a sense of a company set in aspic, with no reaction to new times and new sensibilities. The Sixties was about new and different, and if you gave people the same ole same ole, you would be on the losing end. It took DC almost 5 years before they took the upstart Marvel seriously. They would laugh at editorial meetings about Marvel’s “ugly art” and figure it would pass. But Stan and Jack had done the improbable; they had fed into the new sensibilities and created a groundswell of appeal from the new readers that transcended the old masters. Stan’s innocent condescension of the Distinguished Competiton had become outright derision by the buyers. A new phrase had entered the lexicon of comics- the Marvel Zombie- a buyer of only Marvel Comics. It wasn’t only DC, when Harvey tried to match up with Marvel’s adventure line, and Tower, and Charlton, they all met the same fate, good reviews but a stubborn refusal of the buyers to budge from Marvel.
It wasn’t even for lack of trying, DC did make some weak attempts at emulating Marvel’s hero with feet of clay style when they created Metal Men, Doom Patrol, Metamorpho and some others. All fine books just not game breakers, and by this time DC needed something dramatic.
New companies like Tower, and that old guard Harvey tried their hands at new style Universally connected hero worlds, to good reviews, but lack luster sales. Even bringing in Joe Simon was no cure for Harvey. His new titles never seemed to bridge the gulf from the Golden Age simplicity to Silver Age sensibilities. Tower started with a splash featuring Wally Wood’s artwork. It expanded too soon, and the other hands couldn’t live up to Wally’s promise, plus the new company had money problems.
Wally Wood—never disappoints – Jim Steranko—the genius arises
Finally, DC made a change. It started in 1964 when the editor of Batman, Julius Schwartz teamed with artist Carmine Infantino to update the Caped Crusader. Infantino got rid of the sillier aspects that had crept into the series and gave the “New Look” Batman and Robin a lither and muscular physique, detective-oriented story direction and sleeker draftsmanship that proved a hit combination. The upshot was that a Hollywood producer saw a new Batman comic and had the idea to produce a Batman TV series. The series, starring Adam West as Batman was such a phenomenon that sales of Batman comics became astronomical, with figures approaching Golden Age sales that hadn’t been seen since the early 1940’s. DC had its game breaker, and they once again rode the crest for the next two years. Batman’s sales didn’t cross over to the other titles.
This wasn’t lost on Stan Lee and Martin Goodman; in late 1966 Irwin Donenfeld gave Carmine the job of designing covers for the entire DC line. Stan Lee approached Infantino with a $22,000 offer to move to Marvel. Jack Liebowitz explained that DC would not match the offer, but could promote Infantino to the position of art director. Initially reluctant, Infantino accepted and decided to stay with DC. Later, when DC was sold to Kinney National Company, Infantino was promoted to editorial director. For once DC had an artist in a position of power instead of rejected pulp writers. Carmine’s first move was promoting artists to editorial positions. He hired Dick Giordano away from Charlton Comics, and made artists Joe Orlando, Joe Kubert and Mike Sekowsky, even Vince Colletta editors.
Next, he actively rewarded new talents when Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil were added to the roster. Of all the noteworthy moves that Infantino made, this might have been the most important. The comic industry had been getting by with professionals who first started in the 1930’s. So while there had been several new audiences, the companies were run just like the 1940’s. These men were at an age where they were generations separated from their audience and this audience wanted new and different treatments of their heroes. Marvel’s bullpen featured mostly younger second generation artists like Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers and Larry Leiber, anchored by the rock of Kirby.
Comics needed young blood, and Carmine’s hiring of Neal Adams was their first taste. Neal’s impact was explosive with a natural yet dramatic feeling of emotional intensity. His figures were the opposite of Kirby’s with a strong, but realistic figural structure highlighted by dramatic asymetric layouts and a Wally Woodlike dramatic use of lighting and staging. There was no missing this new approach– so distant from the cartoony Curt Swan, or Sheldon Moldoff pencils seen so long on Superman and Batman. Unfortunately, while Adam’s work was so beloved by the fans and critics, the casual buyers never warmed up to it and he would never have a long and successful run on a character. But Carmine stuck with Neal and his style soon became the in-house DC style, adorning most every cover. Great buzz, but no real improvement with sales.
Stan Lee was not to be outdone; a young artist had debuted over at Harvey Publications when Joe Simon started a new line of adventure titles in 1966. As a teenager, this young artist had sought out Jack Kirby. On a visit to the Kirby household, he and Jack talked comic art for hours with a Kirby made bologna sandwich breaking up the stay. Jim Steranko’s art was equal part pop art intricacy, and Jack Kirby dynamics. It was destined that when the Harvey titles were canceled, he would gravitate over to Marvel with his impressive portfolio in hand.
Kirby and Steranko – Barry Smith ala Kirby dots and squiggles.
With Steranko’s facility with hi-tech gadgetry, Stan placed him with Jack Kirby to work together on Nick Fury- Agent of SHIELD. Jim finished over Kirby layouts for a few issues before taking over complete art duties. Steranko reminisced; “As a fan, I had admired, studied, and collected Kirby’s comics and knew him several years before we worked together on the SHIELD series. That collaboration was one of the high points of my career, not only marking my debut at Marvel, but one with Kirby as my mentor. A dream was fulfilled when I inked the cover of Strange Tales #151 and finished his breakdowns for the first three issues before soloing on the series.” The art was breathtaking in its intensity and dramatics. The combination of Kirby figures and Steranko’s hi-technology and surrealistic op-art backgrounds was staggering. No one–not even Neal Adams so quickly became a fan favorite as did Jim Steranko. Jim was soon assigned to Captain America where he produced three highly regarded issues. When Jim couldn’t make deadline, Kirby stepped in and over a weekend drew a fill-in issue of Cap.
Unfortunately, Jim Steranko was a comet, his time at Marvel was short due in some measure to Stan Lee’s interference, and his own time consuming standards that didn’t jibe well in a book-a-month industry. It’s been said that Jack could do 4-5 pages in one day, while Steranko could do one page every 4-5 days. Ultimately, Steranko explained that his feelings for his own work led to a breaking point with Lee. On a Nick Fury project,(ed’s note; it was actually a horror story, not a Nick Fury) Steranko pleaded with Lee not to alter his work despite his authority to do so.
“Don’t touch this work, I’ve put too much time in this work, if you tinker with it you’ll screw it up,” Steranko paraphrased on his encounter with Lee. “It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him angry, it’s the only time I’ve known him to be angry,” said Steranko, explaining that Lee effectively stood his ground telling him he couldn’t tell his editor how to do his job and firing him on the spot. “Stan really had every right to take that attitude. I was really wrong. I shouldn’t have taken that attitude, but I didn’t want him to change that story,” said Steranko. “Stan was the editor, and I was just some geek who walked in out of the night. So at this late date, Stan, forgive me.”
Next up was an English émigré whose work impressed Stan so much that he immediately gave him fill in work. Barry Smith was initially a Kirby clone, impressing with extreme figural posturing and a touch of pop art sensibilities. Smith didn’t gravitate towards Marvel, he attacked it head on. In an interview Barry was asked: Did you seek out Marvel because of Jack’s work? Smith responded: “Yes. Marvel was my only interest because of Kirby’s work”. With early work on X-Men, Nick Fury, and Avengers, the young Brit worked tirelessly at his office on a park bench. Unfortunately his visa problems caught up and he had to go back to Great Britain, but not before leaving a mark on the industry. Others like Dell alumni Herb Trimpe helped out on westerns, Bernie Wrightson and Mike Kaluta would be added.
Barry Windsor-Smith said, talking about his Kirby influence: “Each panel and page was so filled with energy and wonder that, as with the Beatles’ work of the same time, I knew I was honored to be alive and aware at these epochs of such undeniable genius.” “The extraordinary fluency of the figure drawings took my breath away; I’d never seen anything like it, ever,” he said. “I have always had a bright star by which to navigate my dream of trying to be one one-hundredth of the galaxy that was Jack Kirby.”
Smith says getting the work was easy.
“There was no pitching required, really—Stan loved my stuff because although it was pretty amateur and klutzy, it had the essence of Jack Kirby about it, and that was what sold Marvel Comics in those days. Stan wanted every penciler in his employ to draw like Jack—not necessarily copy him, I must point out, because that has been misconstrued for too long—but, rather, to adapt from Kirby’s dynamism and dramatic staging. Many pencilers pretty much had their own styles wrecked by Stan’s insistence in this matter. It was horrid watching Don Heck—a perfectly adept illustrator of everyday things and occurrences—struggle to create a dynamism in his work that simply was not a part of his natural capabilities. Herb Trimpe, John Romita Sr. and others were all twisted away from their own natural proclivities to adapt the Kirby style—disastrously affecting their own artistic vision or needs. I doubt whether Stan pushed Steve Ditko to be more like Kirby because, after all, Ditko’s style was already dramatic in its staging and pacing.”
Once DC had been sold to Kinney, the gentleman’s agreement as to raiding the artist stable ended, and Stan soon convinced Gil Kane, and Neal Adams to switch teams. Marvel was now the work place of choice.
Barry Smith tells one of the great anecdotes about working close quarters at Marvels studios.
“The offices were no bigger than an average NYC apartment. Areas were sectioned off—the Bullpen itself could hold four people sort-of comfortably, with liberal deodorant use. Stan had the only office with a door. The atmosphere was quite merry most of the time. Marie (Severin) was a constant source of laughs with her wonderful cartoons of all of us. I remember one afternoon in the late summer of ’68, the radio was playing the Beatles latest song and as it came into the long, chanting coda one by one each person began singing along—Herb Trimpe, John Romita, Morrie Kuromoto, Tony Mortarello, Marie and a few others—all singing at the top of their lungs, Naa—NaNa NaNaNaNaaa—Hey Ju-u-ude… It was wonderful, gave me chills of pleasure.”
From the moment he took over DC in 1967, Infantino set out to launch one new book after another. He abandoned DC’s traditional method of giving a new feature two to four issues of Showcase (or Brave and the Bold) and waiting for sales figures, instead giving features only one or two Showcase appearance and immediately spinning them off into their own title. But most didn’t last beyond seven issues. They included Beware the Creeper and The Hawk and Dove (both by Steve Ditko), Bat Lash (an innovative Western series), Brother Power the Geek, Prez, and some romance titles (by Joe Simon).
Jim Simon, (Joe’s son) in a personal communication explained.
“Fans should keep in mind that Prez, and Power reflected the times—the hippie and youth movement. It’s hard to relate to today but at the time he (Joe) was having a ball with the concepts.—I think these could have been better if Dad had worked with a different artist. Jerry Grandenetti was a neighbor and Dad gave him work but I never liked Jerry’s comic book work even though he did interesting “shots”. I also wrote some of these stories and that could also have been a problem! In fairness to Jerry Grandenetti, he was a wonderful war and horror artist, but his style was old school and worked against the hipper nature of the new comics. I have always felt that it might have been easier to reach a younger audience if the books weren’t written by a 50+ ad man.
Unknown to both Joe and Jim Simon, there was also a cancer killing his books from the inside. Mort Weisinger, Simon and Kirby’s old tormentor during their early DC days was not happy with Joe Simon coming back, and he made a personal plea to Donenfeld to cancel Prez, which he claimed as anti-American and unpatriotic.
Carmine was under the gun, nothing he threw against the wall was sticking. The new owners were not pleased. In late 1968, a fortuitous event happened when Jack Schiff, the veteran editor at DC retired. The old guard was giving way. With his retirement, a large obstacle for Jack Kirby disappeared. Jack had been persona non grata at DC as long as Schiff was still at DC due to the Sky Masters fiasco.
According to Carmine in his biography he and Kirby had remained good friends from when he had worked at S&K.
“Jack Kirby and I were old friends. We had done that strip that never sold and, in the ’50s, I worked for him and Joe Simon. While Jack was at Marvel, we would talk from time to time. In ’69, I was flying back and forth to California overseeing Hanna-Barbera’s work on DC’s SUPER-FRIENDS TV show. I called and said, ‘Jack, I’m coming out to California for Passover. Do you want to get together and have a drink?’ “He said, ‘Absolutely.’
Jack recalled Joe Simon’s old axiom “when you make a proposal to an editor, have a tangible project, not an ephemeral idea. Don’t let them evolve the project-or worse, steal it. Infantino joined the Kirby’s for Seder.
“And when we talked, he showed me these three projects. They were FOREVER PEOPLE, NEW GODS, and MISTER MIRACLE. “I said, ‘They’re sensational. When is Marvel putting them out?” “He said, ‘They’re my creations and I don’t want to do them at Marvel. Would you make me an offer?’ “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ He wanted a three-year contract. I said, No problem, you got it. So I made him an offer, which was more than what he got over there, and then I gave him a contract. It was that simple. He was very unhappy at Marvel and wanted to come over to DC. Marvel wouldn’t pay him for writing and I would, so he made more money with us.”
Infantino left the Kirby household without a firm ok by Jack.
Jack would often say that for the best affect, his sci-fi concepts should be placed 5-10 years in the future- far enough to amaze but not so far as to be unimaginable. In July, 1969, Kirby’s and Kennedy’s dream became a reality. Neil Armstrong, in one small jump made humanity a Cosmic traveler. Only 6 years after Jack first had the Fantastic Four step on the moon. Now Neil didn’t run into any Commie super apes, or find a large solitary observer of the human race, but that’s not an indictment of Kirby. It just shows that God didn’t have as well developed an imagination as Jack Kirby.
After a short period of looking, the Kirby family settled on a mountaintop in Thousand Oaks, just a short trip Northwest of L.A. On clears days, Kirby could see the Pacific Ocean. He had traveled about as far from New York’s Lower East Side as humanly possible.
While in California, Jack had been assigned to assist a small company called Marvelmania International in producing some Marvel related collectibles. Marvelmania was started by a gentleman named Don Wallace, who had convinced Marvel that he could take over their marketing concerns. Don was kind of shifty and working on a shoestring. Getting paid was iffy, but Kirby provided a whole slew of drawings for the company. Jack drew and inked eight gorgeous posters for a fine art type printing. Marvel decided that eight was too much Kirby and they canceled four of them-without payment. Then they had Herb Trimpe redraw the Hulk poster using Kirby’s backgrounds and his figure as the template. Again, Kirby was not paid, plus it was Herb Trimpe’s name on the poster though Kirby had effectively laid out the figure and provided the backgrounds.
While working at Marvelmania Int. Jack met several young men. Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier were long time comic fans who had organized the L.A. Comic Club and hoped to find a job in comics. The only major comic company located on the West Coast was Western–a division of Gold Key Comics. When the boys learned that Kirby had moved west, they soon tracked him down and became constant house guests. While still at Marvelmania Int. Evanier sold some comic scripts to Western. This was the first in a long ongoing career. Evanier was also a friend of Shel Dorf, a comic enthusiast who wanted to create a major West Coast Comic convention. In 1970, at a San Diego Hotel the inaugural San Diego Comic convention was held; the headliners were Forest Ackerman, a legendary sci-fi publisher, and Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. Another new acquaintance was Mike Royer, an artist from Oregon who had moved to California to get into the animation industry. Mike was also doing some work for Western Publication, mostly inking over Russ Manning, when he met Jack Kirby who asked him to ink the classic self-portrait for a Marvelmania magazine.
Mike recalled with great clarity;
“One night in the late ‘60s, about 8:00 in the evening, the phone’s ringing in the kitchen, I pick it up and the voice says “Hello, Mike Royer? This is Jack Kirby. Alex Toth says you’re a good inker.” And Jack says there’s a bunch of stuff he’s doing for Marvelmania and he wanted to know if I’d be interested in inking them.
Royer would always marvel since he had not worked for Al Toth, and had no idea Toth even knew who he was.
Mike Royer’s first inking
Jack and Steve – The new team – Mark
Interesting, Royer was faithful, but no squiggles
In late 1969 Jack received a phone call, a college producer, Sheldon Feldner asked Jack if he would prepare some production drawings for a play based on Julius Caesar put on by the Santa Cruz Theatre Company. Jack, who could never say no, agreed and did almost 2 dozen drawings, one of which was used as the cover for the playbill.
The director, Sheldon Feldner, a Marvel fan, wanted a comic artist to design the costumes. He contacted Stan in New York about his proposal and Stan suggested Kirby since he had recently moved out there. “An assistant and I drove down and stayed at Jack’s overnight. We watched Spartacus on TV and talked about Roman armor. But mostly, we listened to Jack talk about Julius Ceasar.” After Jack watched a rehearsal Mr. Sheldon asked him if he (Jack) wanted to play Ceasar? He laughed and said “not to worry- we couldn’t afford him.” Jack explained the production was by college kids and Jack felt he owed them.
This is Jack’s little help
While at Marvelmania, Mark Evanier was finding getting paid tougher and tougher; he noticed bills being paid for with Kirby original art. He realized it was going under. He contacted Jack and explained that his artwork was being given away, and arranged for Jack to come and pick up his work. Jack and Neal drove up and absconded with all the original art they could find, but many pages sent over from New York were missing. With the company failing, Don Wallace started scapegoating, picking Mark Evanier as the likely culprit; he even went so far as calling Evanier’s home and threatening him with legal measures. The young assistant was despondent and feared for his livelihood. Jack noticed how upset Mark was and when Mark explained what was going on Kirby responded angrily. Mark remembers: “Jack immediately went to the phone, called my harasser, and though it was Saturday, caught him at his office. All I heard Kirby say was ”If you ever bother Mark again, I’ll come down and punch your goddam face in.” Nothing more was ever heard from Don Wallace.
Back at Marvel in January 1970, they continued to badger him about the unacceptable contract, until Jack considered their terms as a take it or leave it proposition. Stan was playing games with some new titles requiring reworking by Kirby plus the new Silver Surfer title was in trouble and Stan turned to Jack to rework the series. Stan’s new vision for the new Silver Surfer as an avenging angel was even more at odds with Kirby’s and Jack was angry. Stan in an attempt to calm down Jack had actually allowed him to write–with full credit–a few stories at the end, but on one of these Stan still couldn’t resist the urge to change Kirby’s ending. Martin Goodman, perhaps as a ploy to force Jack to sign the new contract, said that Kirby was making too much money and threatened to cut his pay. This disrespect had to stop and in March 1970, Kirby called up Carmine Infantino and said that it’s a go, and then he called Stan and tendered his resignation.
Stan Lee recalling Jack’s leaving says he was shocked and caught unaware, just as he was by Ditko’s departure. Roy Thomas says that everyone knew there were problems, but even Roy was shocked and dismayed when it actually happened. The art staff was stunned. John Romita, the art director didn’t think Marvel could handle the loss of Kirby. Rumor has it that Marie Severin tacked a cigar stub up on a bulletin board with the words “I quit” written underneath, and that’s how most of the Marvel staff learned of it. The king had abdicated the crown, and moved to a new country. One decade ended, and another began. Strike three.
Tom Morehouse is one of Jack Kirby’s biggest fans and scholars. He built a significant collection, a.k.a. his Kirby Krypt, which contained every one of Kirby’s U.S. published works (note the past tense, he sold it years ago), and continues to study Kirby’s work.
Tom recently reached out and asked “What was the name of the Australian ‘Snake River’ comic, again? Because I think I found it.” I reminded him it was “Showdown at Snake River“, and we talked more. Turns out he’d asked an auction seller about a Black Rider story that was listed in a comic they were selling. They replied it was titled “Guns Roar at Snake River!’ and sent along a low quality snapshot.
And there it was. A Kirby splash for a previously unknown Black Rider story! The circular lower left panel was a big clue.
Some background: the first Black Rider comic book series published by Timely/Atlas/Marvel publisher Martin Goodman started with #8 dated March 1950. Publication took a hiatus between issues #18, January 1952, and #19, November 1953. Then, its name was changed to Western Tales of Black Rider with issue #28, dated May 1955, and ran until #31, dated November 1955. Jack Kirby was not involved in any of these comics. (Thanks GCD!)
However, two years later Goodman started a new quarterly Black Rider series, dated September 1957. With a beautiful cover by John Severin, the issue contained three Black Rider stories across nineteen pages by Jack Kirby, the seven page “The Legend of the Black Rider!”, the six page “Duel at Dawn”, the six page “Treachery at Hangman’s Bridge!”, a four page story by Bob Powell, and a text story with illustrations by Gene Colan.
Title splash pages for the three Black Rider stories in vol 2 #1, dated September 1957.
The second issue… well, there was no second issue, but it appears one was planned because Goodman published three more Jack Kirby Black Rider stories totaling fourteen pages. The four page “Trouble in Leadville!” appeared in Gunsmoke Western #47, dated July 1958, the five page “The Raiders Strike!’ appeared in Gunsmoke Western #51, dated March 1959, and the five page “Meeting at Midnight!” appeared in Kid Colt, Outlaw #86, dated September 1959.
Title splash pages for the three Black Rider stories published later in the U.S..
Tom found the Black Rider “Snake River” story in Giant Western Gunfighters #4, from Horwitz Publishing. After receiving it, he graciously lent it for scanning and indexing. The comic is a mixture of Goodman-published stories, but interestingly, contains five 5 page stories, including the Black Rider, that have not been found to be published in the U.S..
Splash pages to the four other stories that do not appear to have been published in the U.S.
Ok, enough background – here’s the new discovery!
Yes, We have better scans… 🙂
Time to call in some art Identifying experts! Harry Mendryk, Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, and Nick Caputo all agree that the pencil art is all Kirby, while Doc V. and Nick agree that the inking is by George Klein. The lettering is still in question. Alex Jay suggests Joe Rosen, and Nick Caputo suggests Ray Holloway. If you have any thoughts, please share!
It’s somewhat interesting that two recent Kirby western story discoveries have “Snake River” in the title, and are inked by George Klein, who is now acknowledged as the inker of Fantastic Four #1. Quite a coincidence that Kirby sold both Snake River stories to Goodman’s editor Stan Lee, but neither were published in the US.
A hearty hail of gratitude to Tom Morehouse for continuing to do the deep dive! And many thanks to Harry, Nick, Doc V., and Alex for their help.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
SPIDER-MAN: THE CASE FOR KIRBY
In Feb. or March of 1962, Stan Lee pulled Steve Ditko aside, he explained that the next issue of Amazing Fantasy (#15) would feature a new super-hero. “He would be called Spider-Man. Jack would do the penciling and I was to ink the character” “Stan said Spider-Man would be a teenager with a magic ring which would transform him into an adult hero-Spider-man. I said it sounded like the Fly, which Joe Simon had done for Archie Publications.” Steve recalled.
“Stan called Jack about it but I don’t know what was discussed. I never talked to Jack about Spider-Man, so I don’t know what his ideas concerning the characters actually were.” Later at some point I was given the job of drawing Spider-Man. Why, exactly? Stan and Jack also have to clear that up.”
Stan Lee says that Spider-Man came to him one night when he saw a spider walking on a wall, and the name Spider-Man derived from a favorite pulp fiction character from his youth- The Spider.
Not surprisingly, Kirby has a different tale to tell. In an interview with Will Eisner, Kirby described the genesis thusly: “It was the last thing Joe and I discussed. We had a strip called The Silver Spider. I believe I said this could become a thing called Spiderman, see, a super-hero character. So the idea was already there when I talked to Stan. He would also explain that at the time he was very busy so after a few introductory pages they turned the character over to the planned inker to pencil and ink. “Stan Lee gave it to Steve Ditko because I was doing everything else; until Johnny Romita came in to take up some slack. There were very few people at Marvel; Artie Simek did all the lettering and production.” When Ditko took over, he and Lee added in their own take on the character. Of the three, only Kirby provided any specifics as to where the inspiration came from.
There was heavy blowback and discussion about Jack’s claims though they weren’t new. As early as 1968 Jack claimed design aspects of Spider-Man as being taken from his earlier work. His portfolio Kirby Unleashed, (1970) had this to say in the biography by Mark Evanier. “Spider-Mans beginnings, however date back to when Simon and Kirby had their own publishing company and were devising new characters for it….they had a projected character named Spiderman…recalling the name, Kirby suggested it to Marvel..” Even in a Marvel in-house article from FOOM #11, (1975) the writer Alex Boyd says; “It’s not generally known that it was Jack Kirby who designed Spider-Man’s costume.” I have read, many strange attempts at twisting those words to refute what was written, but they can’t change the date and now make the claim that Kirby’s claims were made during a period of great anger at Marvel. It was always Kirby’s claim that Jack presented the idea of Spider-Man to Stan Lee. I think the clearest evidence came from an article from Comics Scene magazine#2 (March 1982) by Howard Zimmerman. Jack says; “I did a mess of things. The only book I didn’t work on was Spider-Man which Steve Ditko did. But Spider-Man was my creation.”
Several different versions, at odds with each other, how do we find out the truth? The first thing is to remember the routine that Lee and Kirby had established. Jack was responsible for the characters and plot elements. And Lee the personalities and human attributes. Is there any evidence that Spider-Man should be any different? No, in fact it makes sense with Ditko’s memories of Jack Kirby being involved before he was, and as the preferred penciller.
Who you gonna call?
It was also Jack’s method to refer back to previous recent creations for inspiration. He had done this for the Rawhide Kid, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and Thor, Ant-Man and Sgt. Fury. There is no reason to expect anything different with Spider-Man. The best clue may be Ditko’s observation that the original concept was identical to Archie’s Fly- created by Simon and Kirby just a couple years earlier- though Ditko had not remembered Kirby’s participation. And what do we know about the Fly? That the Fly evolved from a Kirby drawn character called Spiderman, which evolved from Joe Simon’s Silver Spider.
What’s the diff? Fly Spider Fly?
But it’s not very scientific to just pick Ditko’s reminiscence and accept it at face value, or Stan’s or Jack’s. If we can’t rely on first-person testimony, what can we do? The Confessor, in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City said it best, “Look at the facts, look at the patterns, and look for what doesn’t fit. Base your deductions on that.”
It has been said, “an artist is someone who pounds the same nail over and over again.” All artists, graphic or literary, have patterns. They repeat aspects, concepts, a style of punctuation, a brush stroke, lines of musculature, anything that separates their style from the hundreds of others. When trying to identify an unknown artist, one can compare the piece in question with other contemporaneous works to match up these patterns. This method has been used to research everything from Shakespeare’s writings to the works of the Great Art Masters. I have spent a lot of time in this text showing the predecessors to Jack’s creations. This pattern is so strong that it can be found from his earliest work all the way to his final works. Jack built his legacy by continually connecting dots yet keeping it fresh.
Can this be used on comic books? Yes, it can, and has. Martin O’Hearn is a noted comic’s historian who specializes in the identification of unaccredited comic writers. He matches up subject, syntax, punctuation, themes and other identifiable patterns, and has had remarkable success in matching writers to their non-credited stories.
Likewise, Dr. Michael Vassallo, in his never-ending quest to index all Atlas/Timely Publications, spent endless hours comparing drawing and inking styles to identify unaccredited works of comic art. His goal of identifying the unlisted inker on Fantastic Four #1 & 2 has led him to amass a veritable mountain of inking examples to compare to the actual comic art. What he didn’t do is blindly accept personal recollections or corporate identifications at face value. If he did, Dick Ayers or Artie Simek would be incorrectly credited with this work. His quest and methods led to the acceptance of George Klein as that inker.
Rather than focusing on un-provable statements- by men with obvious agendas- made long after the creation of Spider-Man, let’s examine their actual concurrent works to see if we can find a pattern of creation that matched up with the concepts, characters, and plot elements found in Amazing Fantasy #15, plus any physical evidence, and testimony from witnesses independent of the three men. I will mention quotes, but not as evidence as quotes are too self-serving. But if a quote provides a specific bit of info, I will try to track that data down to see if relevant, such as Ditko’s quote mentioning the Fly.
Jack Kirby was an amazing man with an endless imagination, but he was also a man who used and reused his favorites themes. I have already mentioned the stories dealing with radio telescopes and looking for aliens, and how this idea bridged several different companies. We also know that Jack did at least five stories using huge rock heads sunk in the Easter Island coast. These stories also crossed at least four different companies, and he did at least 7 stories of robots or other mindless machines getting intelligence—usually by radiation affecting their cores. Alien children running amok causing havoc to the human population crossed many companies and genres. And this was before Quasimodo, Monsteroso or Machine Man. Jack constantly repeated his sources, though he never told the same story twice, he always fit those themes into stories with different takes and details.
For example; One of Jack’s many repeated premises is the Hollywood movie production where the heroes get invited in and once in find the props are not fake, they are deadly traps meant to kill them by their enemies. A version of this shows up even before Jack teamed up with Joe Simon in Wilton of the West, Jack and Joe used it in a wonderful Captain America story, and when they left for DC they used it in a Boy Commandos, and a Newsboy Legion story. An interesting version showed up in Fighting American. Interesting because it was planned for an unpublished issue, and never saw print until 1965, 4 years after Jack used the exact same sequence in a Fantastic Four story. He would reuse it in different versions on Thor, and a later Captain America. This same premise also shows up in an early Spider-Man. No one can deny that it was a Jack Kirby pattern that he used time and again.
So the best way to begin is to break Spider-Man down to its basic elements and look for matches. The basic concept of Spider-Man is simple, a hero, with the inherent physical powers of a spider- he can crawl up walls, and across ceilings, he has the proportional strength and agility of an arachnid. He has an extra sense that warns him of danger. He manufactures a web shooter that can be used for catching prey, and used as a means of mobility. This was described by Stan Lee when first talking to Steve Ditko.
I could find no earlier character from either Lee or Ditko that had any resemblance to Spider-Man, none. As to Jack Kirby, it didn’t take long to track down a pattern match for the physical aspects of Spider-Man, the surprising factor is just how similar the two characters are. The very character that Steve Ditko claims he recognized when told of the conception. Spider-Man was exactly the same as The Fly.
The very last costumed super-hero book that Kirby produced, prior to Marvel, featured an insect hero able to climb walls and ceilings; had super strength, the agility of a bug, and, amazingly, an extra sense that warned him of danger. Steve Ditko has said that all of this was in place before he got involved. If so, then what was changed from Kirby’s Spider-Man? It seems all the changes were made to Peter Parker, so a full half of the premise remained the same. Ditko made no changes to Spider-Man.
Marvel even noticed a resemblance – The most sensational new villain
In The Adventures of the Fly, (Archie Publications 1959,) Simon and Kirby introduced The Fly, a hero with the exact same insect derived powers that show up in Spidey. In fact, the only physical difference is that the Fly not surprisingly, can fly. The most interesting aspect for me is the match-up of a “sixth sense” to warn of danger. While the other powers (wall climbing, etc.) might be considered generic to any insect hero, (though this isn’t backed up by actual evidence) this warning sense, or insect sensitivity as Archie Publications called it is, as far as I know, something totally unique and beyond the norm of the natural attributes of insects..
The Fly – Spidey
With Spider-Man, his Spidey Sense has two different aspects, the first is a direct warning of an unknown attack, as seen when the Vulture swoops down from behind and his Spidey Sense makes him swerve out of harms way, or when The Invisible Girl tried to sneak up on him. The writers have even described it the same way
Spidey – Mirror images – The Fly
The second aspect is a more vague sense of unease that something bad is about to happen. Like when Spider-Man enters the Tinkerer’s workshop. Ditko shows this extra sense with wavy rays emanating from Spidey’s head. So does the Fly. This was not a onetime aspect, as the Fly stories used it many times.
Coincidentally, the Fly’s extra sense has the exact two aspects as does Spider-Man. It warns him of people sneaking up behind him, such as a punk with a gun and also as a vague vibration bringing a sense of dread alerting the Fly to trouble at the Orphanage. When this is shown in the Fly, he is shown with rays emanating from his head. The addition of this unnatural extra sense and presentation showing up in both creations is just too coincidental. Perhaps the silliest explanation was when a reader, in attempting to show a difference, tried to explain the Fly’s ability as super-hearing. The description in the panel belies this, plus in other uses it was called an “insect sensibility”
It should be noted that the addition of the extra sense that warns of impending danger, first seen in the Fly, seems to have been an original Kirby item, since it was not present in either the Silver Spider proposal, or mentioned in the Jacobson memo.
It’s been said that the Devil’s in the details, and it’s these repeated small details that in my opinion, make the strongest case for Kirby being the concept man.
Does the physical similarity between The Fly and Spider-Man correspond and bolster any specific claims made by the three men? Yes.
It backs up Ditko’s memory, plus it backs up Kirby’s claim that it started with Joe Simon’s Silver Spider which we know evolved into the Fly.
Joe Simon’s logo
Let’s review the step by step process that led from the Silver Spider to Spider-Man. When Archie Publications asked Joe Simon to produce some books for them in 1959, Joe called in Jack Kirby to help out. Joe suggested that they rework his earlier Silver Spider proposal into a character called Spiderman. He handed over a file containing the initial Silver Spider proposal to Jack. The file also contained a rejected working logo. and probably the editorial memos, by Harvey Publications, rejecting the initial proposal. After drawing the first story, the name was changed to the Fly, with changes made to the Kirby drawn story.
According to Joe, in The Comic Book Makers (Crestwood Publications, 1990) when Kirby asked him about specific powers for The Fly, Joe told him “Hey, let him walk up buildings, and let him fly if he wants to, It’s a free country. Take it home and pencil it in your immortal style.” Kirby did just this, and the result was The Fly.
Why is the Fly swinging on a web?
Again, Joe saying The Fly evolved out of the Silver Spider proposal doesn’t make it true. It is when we compare the two stories that we see that aspects of the Fly’s origin gimmick is consistent with the Silver Spider’s. (and Ditko’s later observation) In both stories, the young protagonist (both named Tommy Troy) is a beleaguered orphan who gains his powers via a mystical ring that transforms him into an adult super hero. Yet the super hero character is different. Where the Silver Spider has no apparent powers except enhanced strength, and a great leaping ability, The Spiderman/Fly has been granted very specific powers; inherent insect abilities, (wall clinging, exceptional agility, a sixth sense and a stinger gun- none of which was in the initial Silver Spider proposal. It is this character evolution, supplied by Jack Kirby, that is the borrowed ingredients that later show up in Marvel’s Spider-Man.
So there is a pattern match that is consistent with Spider-Man and Kirby’s The Fly, and a paper trail that lends credence to Jack Kirby’s claims concerning the initial Silver Spider connection, and Ditko’s claim about the resemblance with the Fly. As an aside, Simon had rejected a working title “Spiderman” for his Silver Spider project, and showed a logo to Kirby, leaving little doubt as to which of the three people involved with Spider-Man would have been the one to supply that name.
Yet nowhere in either the Fly, or the Silver Spider work up can be found a template for the concept of a web being used as a means of mobility, or as a way of capturing prey. Which brings me to a part of this history that has been overlooked, and in this area lies what I believe to be the only existing contemporaneous written evidence that shows undeniably where the concepts came from, and who brought the basic concept of Spider-Man to Marvel. This is what I consider to be the smoking gun, much like catching the crooks with the blueprint to the bank, and the vault combination.
After Joe Simon submitted his proposal for the Silver Spider to Harvey Publications for acceptance, Leon Harvey handed it over to a young editor by the name of Sid Jacobson for critiquing and approval. In two memos from 1954, addressed to Leon, Sid made it apparent that he was not happy with the proposal. “Strictly old hat” he says, stating that the concept is too generic, with nothing special to set it apart. In the second memo, Sid Jacobson takes the extra step of suggesting just what changes could be done to make this concept more interesting. These memos were in Joe Simon’s, Silver Spider file, they were unearthed, and originally published in Greg Theakston’s Pure Images #1 (Pure Imagination,1990)
Here is the pertinent section of memorandum #2.
EDITORIAL MEMORANDUM #2
TO: LEON HARVEY February 23, 1954 FROM: SID JACOBSON RE: SILVER SPIDER
Conclusions on character: Physical appearance- The Silver Spider should be thought of as a human spider. All conclusions on his appearance should stem from the attributes of the spider. My first thought of the appearance of a human spider is a tall thin wiry person with long legs and arms. He should have a long bony face, being more sinister then handsome. The face of the Submariner comes to mind.
Powers: The powers of the human spider should pretty much correspond to the power of a spider. He therefore wouldn’t have the power of flight (author’s note: something hinted at in Simon’s proposal) but could accomplish great acrobatical tricks, an almost flight, by use of silken ropes that would enable him to swing ala Tarzan, or a Batman. The silken threads that the spider would use might come from a special liquid, from some part of his costume that would become silken threads in much the same way as the spider insect. These threads would also be used in making of a web, which could also be used as a net. The human spider might also have a “poison” to be used as a paralyzing agent.
-end of memo-
There is no ambiguity, vagueness, or doubt; Sid Jacobson suggested that for the Silver Spider to work, it would have to become what we recognize as Spider-Man!
It appears as if Jack took some of Jacobson’s suggestion to heart when he cobbled together the character of Spiderman/Fly, for he added the detail of inherent insect attributes, and a web gun– enabling the Spiderman to travel and catch quarry– which Simon says was changed to a buzz gun when the character became the Fly. “Out went the web-pistol. The Fly now carries a buzz gun, which paralyses his foes with stinging darts. It wasn’t scientific, but who cared? It was good comics.”
Move forward three years, when Goodman decided to go the super-hero route; Kirby is asked to come up with another character, and now the parallels between the Spider-Man creation and the Jacobson memo become undeniable.
Spider-Man would have the natural instincts and powers of a spider; he could walk up walls, and ceilings. He would have the proportional strength, and agility of an arachnid. And more importantly, he could emit a silken thread that he could walk across, or use as a swing. His webbing, a synthesized liquid, which emanated from his costume, was also adaptable as a net in which to ensnare villains, all of this totally identical with the Jacobson memo. Interestingly, later, when Hollywood came a calling, they changed the web from a manufactured liquid shot from the uniform into a natural inherent physical ability. The only mention of a manufactured liquid is found in the Jacobson memo, and the comic book appearance.
Evidence, and m.o.; a series of continuing pattern matches, plus a paper trail that leads directly to only Jack Kirby. And according to Steve Ditko, the origin gimmick (magic ring, transforming into an adult) was originally taken from the Fly also. What are the odds that Stan Lee, working alone, or in collaboration with Ditko, would come up with exactly the same title, the same set of unique powers, the same origin gag, and the same weapon?
Some may imply that if all Kirby did was rework a Simon project, shouldn’t Simon get the credit. As shown, every facet of Spider-Man’s character, that matches up with The Fly, or the earlier Spiderman is an element that Kirby worked on or added–nothing was taken from Joe Simon’s Silver Spider except the original title logo, and that had been rejected by Simon. Simon, on his own, had never used the logo, or acted on Jacobson’s character suggestions. But in any history of Spider-Man’s creation, in my opinion, both Joe Simon and Sid Jacobson certainly deserve a large footnote
All pulp – no super-hero – blazing 45’s
Try as I might, I couldn’t find any prior Lee or Ditko tales that might have been a template for the character of Spider-Man. None. Lee’s oft quoted statement that he had a long fascination with the pulp hero The Spider, may be true, but there is absolutely no resemblance in origin, weapons, personality or powers between the two characters. It should be noted that Stan’s fascination with the pulp Spider never led him to create a spider figure in the Golden Age when Stan was creating so many characters.
It should be highlighted that the addition of the extra sense that warns of impending danger, first seen in the Fly, seems to have been an original Kirby item, since it was not present in either the Silver Spider proposal, or mentioned in the Jacobson memo. It should also be noted that this insect-sense was not a one-time and then forgotten use, The power was in constant use even after Simon and Kirby left the series. It was a consistent part of the characters profile.
Inset from Fly #16 cover – they can’t control their “insect powers” – Still pre-Spider-Man
Ditko, for his part has acknowledged that the original concept was similar to The Fly, yet he says it was rejected, and changed because it was too identical to the Fly. So I tried to see where they might have changed the character. Try as I might, there is nothing significantly different between the Fly and Spider-Man. Every unique power that Spidey possesses first shows up in the Fly. Why, if they recognized the similarity between the Fly and Spider-Man, didn’t Stan and Steve make some changes except for the origin gimmick?
There are some specific detail differences, however, in these similar powers: The Fly’s super strength is never explained, it’s just a given. Spider-Man’s is specifically described as the “proportional strength” of a spider–a rather unique concept, (and surprisingly never used by any other insect inspired hero, i.e. Blue Beetle, Green Hornet, Tarantula ) and specific enough for me to try to track down to see if this might be an addition attributable to Lee or Ditko. But again, the only example I could find of any one of these three men giving a character the proportional strength of an insect prior to the creation of Spider-Man is found in a Kirby story. In Black Cat Mystic #60 (Harvey Publications, 1957), in a story entitled “The Ant Extract,” a meek scientist discovers a serum that gives him the proportional strength of an ant. Because of his new power, the scientist is feared and ostracized by authorities. (sounds vaguely familiar) Another small, but novel detail, that shows the evolution of the concept, and is traceable to Jack Kirby.
The mechanical weapon as first created by Kirby has been described by Steve Ditko as a web-shooting gun, and later modified by Ditko into a wrist-mounted web shooter. Again, not taking this quote as fact, my research found that the only pattern match to a costume emanated webbing, is found in the Jacobson memo that Kirby had. The wrist shooter as designed by Ditko is a wonderful modification and a stroke of genius, but it is still just a modification–the actual idea of a mechanical web shooter, even by Ditko’s account, was Kirby’s. There is also a time when Steve wanted to have a villain replicate Spider-Man and he chose a web gun rather than a wrist shooter yet no one notices the difference.
In review: every unique physical aspect of the character we know as Spider-Man can be traced back to only one of the three men involved, Jack Kirby. Not only amazingly exact pattern matches, but also a written blueprint that only Kirby had seen. Evidence and modus operandi. If the concept of Spider-Man was all that Kirby supplied, he deserves co-creator credits, but it doesn’t end there.
The next aspect is the character of Peter Parker, and while he is Spider-Man, the role of the alter-ego is to present a sometimes opposing character to the heroes. It is this dichotomy that helps create tension and oftimes humor. It is this aspect that keeps the hero and the story grounded in some semblance of reality.
Peter’s character is portrayed as a nerdy, wallflower science whiz, taunted by his peers for his lack of athletic prowess and social skills. He is rejected by the opposite sex.
Surprising as the aspect seems Ditko-like, after comparing the recent works of the three men, I was able to find a pattern match with only one of them, Jack Kirby. And not just one outlier, but several times.
In the late ‘50s, Kirby was looking for work, his comic book work had dwindled and he thought of getting into the syndicated strips. One of the strips he proposed was titled Chip Hardy. Chip was a young college freshman on a science scholarship. A regular ‘boy wonder’ taunted the other kids. Moose Mulligan, the campus jock, teased young Chip about why he didn’t try out for football, instead of “hiding behind a mess of test tubes”. Other students followed suit and mocked the youngster, labeling all science majors as “squares”. Eventually, this taunting escalated into a physical confrontation between Moose and Hardy, with young Chip getting the better of it, mimicking exactly the character template and early relationship between Peter Parker, Flash Thompson, and the other school mates. While this strip was never published, Greg Theakston has published a few panels in the back of The Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force. (Pure Imagination, 2000).
Another amazing pattern match is to be found in Tales To Astonish #22, (Marvel Pub. Aug. 1961) in a tale titled “I Dared to Battle the Crawling Monster”, one of the many Kirby/Ayers monster stories, possibly dialogued by Larry Lieber. (unsigned by Lee) The hero is a high school student, a scrawny, dorky, bookwormish sort, laughed at by the jocks for his lack of athletic ability, and taunted by the girls. Typically, by the end of the story, it is the bookworm, not the jock who is the hero. Even the visuals of the lead character strongly resemble the Peter Parker character as shown in AF#15.
Puts the lie to Kirby couldn’t do nerdy and scrawny – another scrawny abused older teenager
In the Bruttu story from Tales of Suspense #22, the protagonist was a small beleaguered scientist, taunted about his size all through high school and college, and into his workplace. It was this taunting that drove him to mistakenly become a monster. This milksop character who overcomes his limitations had become a standard icon of Kirby’s fantasy stories.
As to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, I could not find any earlier templates for the harassed, teen-age, academic style hero. And Lee/Ditko had a several years long collaboration where one might expect this plot element to show up. None, and this, frankly surprised me. There is one aspect of Peter Parker that was consistent to Stan Lee, and that is Peter’s personality. Besides being a science geek, (complete with pocket protector) Peter is shown to be somewhat angst-ridden; doubting of his own worth and unable to fit easily into society. His uneasiness with his new- found powers is atypical of Kirby’s heroes. Kirby’s men were fighters, despite their shortcomings. This inner conflict, and sometimes, outer rage is pure Lee, it is this deeper human psychological aspect that Lee imbued into all of Marvel’s heroes. It is the difference between Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four, and Rocky Davis of the Challengers of the Unknown.
Spider-Man, the alter-ego as an orphan was a constant among Kirby creations. I swear that I can’t think of a singular Kirby hero that had parents. Even those not specifically called orphans never had parents intruding their exploits. Some have said that Uncle Ben was originally a gruff, ex-military man not happy with his milksop nephew. And that Jack would never have done that type of relationship. Yet they seem to forget that the adoptive parents of the Fly (yes, the same Fly) were very hard on the child, even to the point of beating him, and by issue #4-5 changed completely into proud and supportive parents.
The villain of AF #15 is a colorless petty crook who has assaulted Spider-Man’s guardian-his uncle. His sole purpose is to create the crisis, which forces the hero into action. This match up is also found in the Fly’s origin. The Fly’s first use of his powers is to bring to justice, a petty crook who had assaulted Tommy’s guardian. This was both characters’ sole appearance.
J. Jonah Jameson is interesting. He is the adult blustering pain in the ass that constantly harassed the hero that Kirby used all the time, from original Captain America to the Shield, and Hulk on. The role of newspaper editor is an interesting one. Jack Kirby had just recently done a fantasy story (Amazing Adventures #4 “I Am Robot X”) where a blustery newspaper man tries to use his media power to destroy the hero; coincidently his name was also a three part Waspy name with an initial; Charles J. Wentworth. Like Jonah, he uses the power of the press to gin up public anger to destroy his enemy for his own selfish reasons. It was also one of Kirby’s sentient robot stories-another oft used idea. It’s a small detail, but J. J. Jameson’s newspaper was the Daily Bugle; a name that Jack used several times during the Golden Age, he even used this title in a newspaper blurb in Fantastic Four #2. Small detail, but telling as to who provided details.
Before Spider-Man developed money trouble, the Fantastic Four had their own run in with debt. They also had an issue with very bad press and hatred by the public. These ideas didn’t start with Spider-Man. The use of a wrestler as a foe against a super-powered hero was not new. Jack had used colorful wrestlers at least five times as foils in his stories dating back to Golden Age. He also put that bit into the FF, with the Thing taking on wrestlers as a comic touch.
The radiated spider is unique, unique to Kirby that is. Just before the AF#15 story Jack drew a fantasy story that involved a common spider that mistakenly gets irradiated and mutates. Jack used radiated insects several times before Spider-Man. This makes a nice change from the original ring gimmick
As to the characters, are my findings beyond the norm at Marvel at the time? I don’t think so. That Kirby constantly evolved and morphed characters and concepts is not an astounding statement. Just look at the examples. I showed for The Thing, and the Hulk, as well as Thor and Ant Man. Jack’s whole history at Marvel is filled with his taking prior concepts and reworking them to meet current needs.
That Stan Lee would take these stock Kirby characters and give them distinct personalities, foibles, and conflicts, soap opera style melodramatic continuities, and hip dialogue is also not really in doubt. I would go so far as to say that both aspects are equally important as to why Marvels’ sales rose.
That the character of Spider-Man as originally created was a Kirby concept is irrefutable, even without the Jacobson memos the patt